BISMARCK — The 2002 legal challenge to the Northwest Area Water Supply project has likely come to an end, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said Friday, May 3.

In an opinion issued Friday morning, the D.C. Circuit Court ruled in favor of North Dakota and the Bureau of Reclamation, ending over 16 years of litigation, barring a last-ditch appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Stenehjem announced in a news release.

"It's great news," said Dan Jonasson, Minot Public Works director. "All of the litigation should finally be behind us — no roadblocks at all for NAWS."

The NAWS project will bring water from the Missouri River to Minot and surrounding counties in northwest North Dakota.

In August 2017, the district court in Washington, D.C., concluded the Environmental Impact Statement for the NAWS project met the requirements of the National Environmental Protection Act and that Missouri did not have legal standing to bring suit. Both Manitoba and Missouri appealed the decision, though Manitoba later dismissed its appeal. Missouri's appeal over water depletion in the Missouri River continued.

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Stenehjem said the court's latest ruling ended the "most recent leg of the litigation marathon" by affirming the lower court decision that Missouri did not have standing to sue the federal government in this case.

"This is a significant and long-sought victory for the citizens of North Dakota," said Stenehjem in the release. "The State has gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure the safe and successful completion of this project, and it is encouraging to finally move towards the goal of bringing a safer and more reliable source of drinking water to the citizens of Minot and the surrounding counties."

The State Water Commission and Bureau of Reclamation began construction on the NAWS project in early 2002. Much of the distribution system and supply pipelines have been constructed, but litigation and various injunctions have hampered efforts over the last decade to complete the project, particularly the water intake structure.

The 2019 Legislature approved a $75 million line of credit to allow the state to construct an intake at Snake Creek and a pre-treatment plant near Max that is necessary to satisfy Canadian concerns over biota getting into the Souris River Basin. Full treatment will occur at the Minot Water Treatment Plant.

"We will be making, hopefully, great strides in the next two to three years," Jonasson said. The design work on the pre-treatment plant should be completed next year, allowing for the project to be bid and constructed. Minot and area communities could see Lake Sakakawea water by 2023 or 2024 if there are no delays, Jonasson said.

The Legislature also approved $25 million for additional pipeline between Glenburn and Bottineau and a reservoir and pump station near Lansford.