N.D. speaks out against Army Corps plan

(UPDATED TO INCLUDE SIDEBAR) BISMARCK—North Dakotans voiced strong opposition Thursday to the Army Corps of Engineers and a plan to charge users for taking water out of Lake Sakakawea.

A packed room of more than 150 people attended a public meeting regarding the draft Lake Sakakawea Surplus Water Report and Environmental Assessment.

The report proposes temporarily making up to 257,000 acre-feet of storage per year within the Garrison Dam/Lake Sakakawea Project available for municipal and industrial water supply use.

This will allow the Omaha District to enter into surplus water agreements to meet regional water needs until a permanent reallocation study is completed, the corps says.

“It means that, before they can place a water intake into the water, they have to have a contract in place,” Omaha-based spokeswoman Monique Farmer said. “There is going to be a fee for taking water out of the lake.”

However, North Dakota state officials came out strongly against the proposal Thursday. Gov. Jack Dalrymple called it “an outrage” that corps policies are now blocking access to the free flow of the Missouri River, calling it the “rightful property of the state of North Dakota.”

The corps cites the 1944 Flood Control Act as its authority, saying the secretary of war is authorized to make surplus water agreements with states, municipalities, private concerns or individuals at such prices and on such terms as he may deem reasonable.

Asked why the corps was acting on this now after more than 60 years, Farmer said they have been directed by headquarters to be in compliance with the act.

Dickinson’s Southwest Water Authority CEO Mary Massad said the corps is trying to implement East Coast water law in the western states.

“This will just have a huge impact as far as the cost of water for everyone, and North Dakota has given up so much already just to have the (Garrison) Dam,” she said.

Dalrymple said the corps should not have the ability to charge water storage costs to repay the construction costs of dams for surplus water when repayment contracts were never required at the start of construction.

Dalrymple, whose speech received a standing ovation, said financial claims have not been sought in the past and contradict states’ rights and congressional authorizations.

“Using U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ easements to block North Dakota’s access to its own rightful water supplies is not only an improper use of the intended purpose of these easements, but is also an unconscionable and unjust attempt to achieve monetary gain where none is justified,” he said.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem also testified against the corps and said he was confident a court would side with the state if it came down to legal action.

“While it is not just, nor do I think legal, for you to demand that we get your permission to use water that naturally flows through our state, it borders on insult—on insult—to demand that we pay for it,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Tex Hall brought up the issue in his State of the Tribal address to state lawmakers.

“We stand as a tribe with the state of North Dakota to oppose the corps,” he said to loud applause.

During the corps’ public meeting, Hall said the corps’ plan would have an adverse affect and limit the ability to use water for tribal needs.

“Why would the corps charge us for our own water? It really befuddles me,” he said.

Farmer said North Dakota isn’t being singled out. The same process will occur for each of the reservoirs throughout the Missouri River Basin within the Omaha District boundary, she said.

Those who weren’t at the Bismarck meeting can still offer comments. The report is available at http://www.nwo.usace.army.mil/html/pd-p/review_plans.html

Written comments can be sent to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District; CENWOOD-T; ATTN: Lake Sakakawea Surplus Water Report and EA; 1616 Capitol Avenue; Omaha, NE 68102-4901.

Comments can be e-mailed to garrisonsurplusstudy@usace.army.mil. Comments must be postmarked or received no later than Feb. 1.

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We also asked the Army Corps of Engineers to answer some questions regarding the draft Lake Sakakawea Surplus Water Report and Environmental Assessment prior to Thursday’s public meeting.

Spokeswoman Monique Farmer provided the answers. 

Q. How much is the fee going to be for taking water out of the lake?

A.  The report details that the cost charged to users (at 2011 price levels) for the water supply contracts would be $20.91 per-acre foot of yield.

 Q. How many people will be impacted?

A. All municipal, industrial and domestic users will be required to have a water supply contract in place before they would be permitted to place intakes into the water. We are currently working with each applicant to quantify the amount of storage they may need. 

Q. Are there exemptions and who would get one?

A. The water supply report does not address exemptions. All municipal and industrial interests will need to have a storage contract in place. This is one issue that may come up in the public meeting.

We will take all of the public input/comments into consideration as we proceed with developing the final draft. 

Q. How much money per year would the federal government make from this?

A. If municipal and industrial users made use of the entire 257,000 acre-feet of storage the Corps has made temporarily available, the federal government would stand to generate revenues of approximately $2.1 million.

The per-year amount would be determined by the amount of storage made available in subsequent years. Remember that the draft report proposes this amount. Depending upon what the final report determines, those numbers may change. 

Q. What is the environmental impact?

A. We conducted the environmental assessment in order to determine whether making this additional amount of storage available to water users would impact the environment. The environmental assessment determines there will be minimal to no impact to the environment because of the small magnitude of predicted changes to discharges and water service elevations at Lake Sakakawea.

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