NAWS official: 'We have a strong case' against an appeal

Oct 12, 2017

The Legislature's interim Water Topics Committee and the state Water Commission hold a joint meeting in Bismarck 10.12.17
Credit Dave Thompson / Prairie Public

The Water Commission’s section chief for the Northwest Area Water Supply project says he believes NAWS has a strong case to make to fight an appeal.

NAWS would bring Missouri River water to Minot and other parts of northwest North Dakota. Manitoba and Missouri sued in federal court to stop the project. Manitoba is concerned about biota transfer from the Missouri River system, while Missouri had a concern over who has the right to Missouri River water. A judge in DC found the project would be allowable, and met the environmental standards. The two governments appealed on the last possible day.

"You know, the merits of the case have already been heard a few times," said Tim Freije, the NAWS section chief for the state Water Commission. "The opinion written by the judge that came out Aug. 10th we feel sets us up very strongly for a defense against an appeal."

Freije said the project has been tied up in the courts for 12 years – and further delays could be problematic.

"Every time we wait another year, our costs go up another $10 million," Freije said in an interview. "This is 65 percent eligible for federal funding, and the biota water treatment plant in Max is going to be a federal facility."

Freije said there's $130 million left in the funding from the Dakota Water Resources Act appropriation for the municipal, recreation and industrial program. He said that's really the only avenue for the federal Department of Reclamation to use to put federal money into these projects in North Dakota.

"The federal share of this project exceeds that amount," Freije said. "They're digging themselves a deeper hole."

Freije said the issues on appeal are yet to be laid out – and he expects to see them in a few weeka.

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