Dalrymple provides update on state aid to oil counties

BISMARCK–Gov. Jack Dalrymple explained the status of funding to help western North Dakota’s oil counties during a news conference Tuesday at the Capitol.

The state has committed $1.2 billion to address the impacts of oil and gas development during the 2011-13 biennium. These numbers reflect spending in the first four months of the biennium, as well as the money remaining for the rest of the biennium.

Check back later for more on this story.

Conference explores the story of water in North Dakota

BISMARCK—From devastating droughts to ferocious floods, water has played a critical role in shaping North Dakota’s history.

A conference this week in Bismarck will explore that history in an effort to improve the future.

“Too Much or Too Little: The Story of Water in North Dakota” is the theme of this year’s Governor’s Conference on North Dakota History. The annual event will take place Friday and Saturday at the Bismarck Civic Center.

Conference coordinator Erik Holland said the topic was selected 18 months ago, but the discussion is timely after this year’s statewide flooding.

“As people listen to the speakers at our conference, we hope that when they begin to make decisions for the future related to water in North Dakota, they are able to have some of that historical perspective and make good long-term decisions,” said Holland, curator of education for the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

The conference begins with a geological perspective and covers issues ranging from North Dakota’s water resource management in the 1930s to the influence of evolving national environmental policies on water management.

State Engineer Todd Sando will discuss the water management challenges that North Dakota has faced and will face in the months and years ahead.

Former Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., is the keynote speaker and will deliver his address, “The Long, Tough Battle Between Mother Nature and North Dakota” on Friday night.

Other speakers include former Gov. Allen Olson, American Indian relations specialist and retired National Park Service superintendent Gerard Baker, and State Flood Recovery Coordinator Murray Sagsveen.

North Dakota Water Users Association Executive Vice President Michael Dwyer will moderate a panel discussion about North Dakota’s water use.

“Water has such a rich history, and so it’s exciting that they’ve chosen this topic for a history conference,” he said. “The current water issues are woven into the historical water issues. It will be very educational.”

For more information about the conference, visit history.nd.gov/conference.

Cities ask state lawmakers for flood protection funding

BISMARCK—North Dakota cities struggling to pay for flood protection are asking state lawmakers for financial support.

In between legislative sessions, lawmakers are meeting to hear about water issues across the state. Representatives from Valley City, Lisbon and Fort Ransom were among those to appear before the legislative Water-Related Topics Overview Committee on Monday.

“The record amount of rainfall, snowfall and subsequent flooding have created dire situations in all three communities,” said Sen. Larry Robinson, D-Valley City.

The cities are doing what they can to move forward with permanent flood protection, but none of them are in a position to cover the cost, he said. Valley City Mayor Bob Werkhoven said it’s time for state funding to be allocated.

“The river channel to the Sheyenne is simply not, at this point, large enough to accommodate anticipated flows,” he said. “And we don’t want to be another Minot. All three cities mentioned have run out of money due to the frequency of flooding during this wet cycle.”

The expense to protect Valley City and other flood-related costs in 2009 and 2011 reached $38 million, City Commissioner Matt Pedersen told state lawmakers.

Both the 2009 and 2011 spring floods mirrored the 500-year flood event modeling of approximately 21 feet, he said. If an emergency levee were to fail, the city could experience $217 million in residential, commercial and exempt property losses, he said.

“We were inches away from a Minot this summer,” Pedersen said, referring to the flooding along the Souris (Mouse) River that damaged 4,100 homes and resulted in the evacuation of one-fourth of Minot.

“We had significant rainfall. We almost flooded. We were inches away, so we need to invest in Valley City,” Pedersen told lawmakers.

Valley City’s immediate needs include $3.6 million for property buyouts, he said.

Fort Ransom Mayor James Thernes also asked state lawmakers for help. Three years of unprecedented flooding have taken a toll on the community and exhausted the city’s finances, he said.

“We find ourselves in desperate need of permanent flood control mitigation measures,” he said.

The city would like financial assistance for soils borings and testing, as well as a preliminary engineering feasibility study for the construction of permanent flood control.

Lisbon City Councilman Jerry Gemar said the costs to fight flooding are “getting too much for us to deal with financially,” and the city is losing people due to flooding concerns. The city needs help to move forward with flood protection, he said.

“Due to high costs of fighting the river, our city has depleted their funds and net worth to an extreme level,” he said in his testimony. “We are to the point (of) financial instability to where normal operations in our community are at risk.”

Sen. Tom Fischer, R-Fargo, said his committee is taking information from all of the entities and putting together a booklet of testimony to forward to the full Legislature to review during the special session in November.

Latest bills signed by the governor

BISMARCK–Here’s what Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed into law last week:

1206: Western Area Water Supply Authority

1003: higher ed budget

1001: legislative budget

1002: judicial budget

1004: Health Department budget

1005: Indian Affairs Commission budget

1006: North Dakota Aeronautics Commission budget

1007: Veterans budget

1020: Extension Service, Northern Crops Institute, Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute, research centers budgets

1025: Comprehensive Tobacco Control Advisory Committee budget

1057: angel fund investment tax credit

2001: Governor’s Office budget

2002: Secretary of state’s budget

2005: State treasurer budget

2006: Tax commissioner budget

2007: Labor commissioner budget

2008: Public Service Commission budget

2009: Ag Department budget

2016: Adjutant general budget

2021: Workforce Safety and Insurance budget

2057: Commerce Department budget

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.

——————-

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.

2009 drinking water report

Information about North Dakota’s public water systems is now available in the newly-released 2009 Drinking Water Compliance Report.

North Dakota public water systems maintain an excellent Safe Drinking Water compliance recor, according to a news release from the Health Department. In 2009, the department issued 272 certificates of compliance to operators and public water systems.

“The purpose of the annual report is to improve consumer awareness of drinking water compliance issues,” Larry Thelen, administrator of the department’s Drinking Water Program, said in a statement. “People served by systems that incurred Safe Drinking Water Act violations in 2009 should have been informed of those violations by their water suppliers.”

All violations are included in the report. Also listed are violations recorded in 2010 and based on 2009 monitoring data.

“It’s important to understand that the majority of violations referred to in the 2009 report have been resolved,” Thelen said. “It is a significant challenge for public water systems and states to meet the ever-increasing number of requirements of the SDWA.”

To obtain a copy of the 2009 Drinking Water Compliance Report, write to the North Dakota Department of Health, Division of Municipal Facilities; 918 E Divide Ave, 3rd Floor; Bismarck, N.D. 58501-1947, or call 701.328.5211. A summary of the report can be viewed on the department’s website at http://www.ndhealth.gov/mf.

Boucher wants help for landowners

House Minority Leader and agriculture commissioner candidate Merle Boucher wants the state to address compensation for landowners who lost land in the Devils Lake basin. 

“I am bringing this topic to light because somehow this issue has been lost in the Devils Lake shuffle,” Boucher said in a statement. “Private landowners have lost land and have not been compensated for it, and there has been no leadership from the state on this issue. We need to have fair and adequate compensation of landowners be a part of our Devils Lake solutions. Someone has to step up to the plate to protect landowners and agriculture producers.” 

Boucher presented his ideas in a memo to the Water-Related Topics Overview Committee today in Devils Lake, according to a news release. 

“For the past two decades, we have observed the constant rise of Devils Lake and several other similar lakes throughout the Devils Lake Basin,” Boucher said in a memo to the committee. “Thousands of acres of productive farm and grazing lands have been consumed by the rising waters. Local and regional infrastructure that supported our farm and ranch operators has been destroyed.”

“Current short-term fixes are not solving the problem(s). We need to get serious about long-term solutions. This starts with recognizing that people who have lost millions of dollars worth of land and building and earning potential need to be fairly compensated,” the memo continued.