Supporters of a plan to bring Missouri River water to the Red River Valley in times of drought say the project will help not only eastern North Dakota, but the central part of the state as well.
And they say it’s not just for drought relief.
Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney told the state Water Commission and the Legislature’s interim Water Topics Overview Committee – the infrastructure for the project will now serve about half the state’s population. He said some communities are interested in using the project to bring water for industrial expansion.
"Often times, this is economic development," said Mahoney. "Industrial water helps them do smaller projects, such as dairy, potato washing, hog and beef operations."
Mahoney said, for example, Stutsman and Barnes Counties have contracted to take some of the water for industrial purposes.
The $1 billion project is projected to be fully operational by 2027. Right now, the state is picking up 90 percent of the cost – but that might change, because of a tighter state budget. Supporters say they understand a tight state budget picture – and they’ve reduced their “ask” for the next Legislative session.
Garrison Diversion Conservancy District chairman Ken Vein of Grand Forks said the 2015 Legislature added intent language that could set aside $150 million in the 2017-2019 biennium.
"But we also realize this is not realistic," Vien said. "We wish it could happen, but things have changed, and it's going to be less."
Vein saids instead, the ask will be for an amount between $30 million to finish the planning, and $50 million, which means actual construction would begin.
"We've made a significant reduction, and we think that's in the best interests of the state," Vein said. "But it keeps our project moving forward."
Vein said a 1930s-style drought in the Red River Valley would significantly hurt the state’s economy.