The 2021 Legislature approved a change in the state's governance of water in North Dakota.
HB 1353 created a department of water resources. Up until now, water projects were the purview of the state water commission, chaired by the Governor. The commission employed a state engineer.
The change means an agency director would be hired by Gov. Doug Burgum, with the approval of the water commission.
"The idea with the reorganization was to separate the administration of water from the technical aspects," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Jim Schmidt (R-Huff). "With the directorship, that individual would focus on the politics of water, and the state engineer would focus on the technical aspects."
Schmidt said there are a tremendous amount of water projects around the state, with a variety of different purposes.
He said this is also a demonstration of the importance of water in North Dakota. "When we take a look at the oil patch, we're using a natural resource, water, to extract oil," Schmidt said. "That creates the financing for the delivery of water, to the people that were there before oil, and the people that will be there after oil. And that's critical."