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Area leaders dismayed with stalling of NAWS

The most recent delay in progress on the Northwest Area Water Supply (NAWS) project doesn’t sit well with area leaders who are ready to see treated Missouri River water running from the taps in their towns.

9/22/10 (Wed)

By Caroline Downs

 
The most recent delay in progress on the Northwest Area Water Supply (NAWS) project doesn’t sit well with area leaders who are ready to see treated Missouri River water running from the taps in their towns.
 
Kenmare mayor Roger Ness has been among those waiting for NAWS water to start flowing through the pipes. “I think water is the most valuable commodity out there,” he said. “For our city, it’s so critical.”
 
Kenmare and communities in 10 northwestern North Dakota counties, including the city of Minot, will continue waiting a few more years as the Bureau of Reclamation and the North Dakota State Water Commission work through more issues related to federal lawsuits regarding treatment of Missouri River water, according to Alicia Waters, Environmental Impact Statement team leader for the NAWS project.
 
Waters welcomed about two dozen area residents to a public scoping session held in Minot September 14th. The meeting was one of four scheduled during the week as Reclamation prepares to revisit the original Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) completed two years ago for the NAWS project. In March 2010, federal district court judge Rosemary Collyer ruled that additional concerns must be addressed by Reclamation before water treatment plans outlined by the NAWS project can proceed.
 
Waters explained the first EIS was undertaken to satisfy the court’s demands for further environmental analysis after the Province of Manitoba filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Interior regarding the transfer of potentially harmful and invasive biota into the Hudson Bay Basin from the NAWS project. Fortunately, Judge Collyer allowed construction of certain elements of NAWS to move forward, if those elements were unrelated to water treatment. Thus, pipelines, pumping stations and water storage tanks have been built.
 
As Waters reviewed the history, she explained that after Reclamation completed the EIS and published it in 2008, the agency signed a Record of Decision in 2009 that named an effective treatment process for Missouri River water.
 
In the meantime, the state of Missouri filed its own lawsuit alleging the EIS was insufficient and that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to consider the consequences of taking water from the river for this purpose.
 
 “The judge is asking for further analysis,” said Waters, “on, one, the potential consequences to the environment associated with transfer of an invasive species into the Hudson Bay Basin, and, two, the cumulative impact of water withdrawal on the Missouri River system.”
 
That further analysis will result in a supplemental EIS written for the project and a delay in the design, not to mention construction, of the water treatment facility. Waters hopes to have a draft copy of the EIS completed by the end of 2011, following the process outlined by the National Environmental Policy Act.
 
“There are a lot of variables,” she said, adding that the draft copy would be made available for a 45-day public comment period. Those comments will be addressed, along with other analysis, and then a final supplemental EIS can be prepared.
 
“The normal time frame for this is one year to get to a draft and then one year to get to a final,” she said. “That would hopefully be the longest time frame. Sooner is always better. We understand that, too.”
 
The public scoping meeting held in Minot revealed widespread support for NAWS, with frustration expressed politely by the North Dakota communities and agencies involved. Waters asked for input about the project and the supplemental EIS, and she didn’t have to wait long to share the microphone.
 
Minot city manager David Waind started with a reminder of the city’s special local sales tax committed to the NAWS project, with over $30 million spent so far and not Missouri River water to show for it.
 
The city of Minot is currently contracted to supply several communities on the northern tier of the NAWS pipeline with water for an interim period. This arrangement will continue until a treatment plant can be constructed for the Missouri River water supply, but the newest delay by the court may strain Minot’s water resources.
 
“It is essential to provide a supply of clean and quality water to the city of Minot and the north-central communities,” said Waind. “We want [to see NAWS] move forward on the critically important treatment portion of this project.”
 
NAWS project manager
urges progress
NAWS project manager Michelle Klose, of the ND State Water Commission, followed with testimony about the project’s construction history and its significance to the region. She noted that $81.8 million has been invested since 1991 by the State Water Commission in federal, state and city of Minot cost share for the project, and that construction started in 2002.
 
“We completed construction on the 45 miles of water line between Lake Sakakawea and Minot in spring 2008,” she said. “The Berthold Segment, which included 25 miles of pipeline, three pump stations and two reservoirs from the Minot treatment plant to Berthold was completed in August 2008. Berthold was the first community to receive interim flow from the NAWS project.”
 
Klose continued by listing the 13 miles of pipeline constructed between the All Seasons Water District water treatment plant near Bottineau and Gardena, the 52 miles of pipeline laid from Berthold to Kenmare and the Upper Souris Water District, and the 62 miles of pipeline nearly completed that will carry water to Mohall, Sherwood and All Seasons. She also mentioned the million-gallon storage tank at Kenmare, which is now in use.
 
“We should be clear,” she said. “The history of this project reflects adaptations to address many of the concerns expressed by Manitoba over the control of invasive microscopic biota. In particular, the project has advanced from an open canal diversion to a closed pipeline, with water treatment evaluated in the EIS to disinfect and radiate the water to kill bacteria and viruses.”
 
Klose went on to review how a variety of required assessments were handled by the project, including wetland avoidance, river and coulee crossings, topsoil conservation, potential for erosion, archaeological surveys, and other impacts to wetlands, wildlife, aquatic life and vegetation. At the same time, she emphasized the need for a new source of water in the area, and the human health, economic and social benefits of that supply.
 
She referenced Berthold’s high levels of sodium, sulfates and chloride in their previous water supply and Kenmare’s difficulty in complying with the federal arsenic standards, and explained how these problems were corrected as Minot began providing an interim water supply.
 
“It is very difficult with the water supply needs of this region to draw a line where the connection to an interim supply will end,” said Klose. “The interim supply was agreed to by Minot...to meet immediate drinking water needs for a portion of the region while work proceeded on the Environmental Impact Statement. Now...the interim supply will be relied on longer than hoped.”
 
She continued, “Loss of the interim supply would take the quality of water being experienced by these communities back to conditions prior to the pipeline construction. No one would want to see that day.”
 
Water needed to meet
development demands
Berthold mayor Alan Lee joined Klose in concern about straining the interim water supply while working through delays in the NAWS project. “People are not aware of how much this can affect us,” he said.
 
He noted that water rates in Berthold increased significantly once the new source from Minot became available. Residents drank water from their taps for the first time, watered their gardens and even washed white clothes without hesitation. No one minds the higher water bills. “I’ve never had one single complaint from it,” Lee said. “People appreciate the efforts of Minot.”
 
He pointed out, however, that since the original EIS was filed and even since the court decision last March, demand for water has increased in the whole region because of oil field activity, which places more of a burden on the Minot water supply. “With oil and gas development here, the need for services grows,” he said. “The oil patch has made any potential growth go bananas.”
 
Lee and other Berthold economic development board members met last week with developers interested in expanding the city’s trailer park and other housing, but water proved to be a limiting factor. “We’re not sure if Minot can supply the demand,” Lee said. “[The current contracts] are designed around so much usage.”
 
He also referenced the first EIS, and the emphasis on environment over citizens. “The studies there prove they can mitigate the impact of any biota [transfer],” he said, “but little was done [in the EIS] to address the impact on the people involved and the economic development of the area. I hope this project will be allowed to go forward.”
 
Representatives from Burlington, Glenburn and the West River Water District expressed their support for the NAWS project and the proposed treatment plan because of water quality issues. Bonnie Locken, mayor of Mohall, said her community was concerned about the low quantity available from their current water supply, with residents and businesses waiting for NAWS to support their expanding demand.
 
Wanted: public comments
Waters said the supplemental EIS would build on the steps Reclamation has already taken to comply with the court, including further environmental assessment of potential transfer of invasive biota species and coordination with the Corps of Engineers regarding the consequences of withdrawing water from the Missouri River. Additional research will take place regarding the potential effects of climate change on the Missouri River water supply itself.
 
New information for the draft supplemental EIS and comments from the public meetings will be posted during the next year online at www.usbr.gov/gp/dkao/naws, and Waters invited members of the audience to view that material as it becomes available.
 
Other public scoping sessions were held in Bottineau, New Town and Bismarck during the week. Waters said similar concerns and support were expressed at the Bottineau hearing, where water was seen as a limiting factor for commercial development in that area.
 
“Reclamation is committed to completion of this project,” she said. “We’re working with the State Water Commission, trying to take the steps necessary to fulfill the process we need to do.”
 
Further comments about NAWS or the additional analysis needed for the supplemental EIS can be submitted to Reclamation by anyone until October 12, 2010. Comments can be emailed to NAWS_EIS@usbr.gov, faxed to 701-250-4326, or mailed to Northwest Area Water Supply Project EIS, Bureau of Reclamation, Dakotas Area Office, P.O. Box 1017, Bismarck, ND 58502-1017. Waters can also be reached by telephone at 701-221-1206.