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Faster construction of Red River water project would save over $100M, officials say

Building the $1.22 billion Red River Valley Water Supply Project in six years would save more than $100 million than if it is built in 10 years, water officials told North Dakota legislators.

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A crew is laying pipe six feet in diameter that will deliver Missouri River water to the Red River Valley. Special to The Forum

FARGO — Officials are making the case that speeding up construction of the Red River Valley Water Supply Project could save more than $100 million in the cost of delivering Missouri River water to eastern North Dakota.

The project is budgeted at $1.22 billion and would pump water out of the Missouri River near Washburn, North Dakota, and send it through a pipeline to an outlet near Cooperstown into the Sheyenne River, a tributary of the Red River.

The construction timeline on the state and local project will largely depend on the pace of state appropriations, which totaled $36.4 million in the 2019-21 budget and $50 million for 2021-23.

Leaders of the Garrison Diversion Conservancy District, which supervises the project, told legislators they will have a $200 million shovel-ready construction project, mostly laying pipeline, ready for 2023-25, and that accelerated construction will save money.

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Workers building a shaft that is part of an intake structure that will pump Missouri River water near Washburn, N.D., to the Red River Valley via the $1.22 billion Red River Valley Water Supply Project. Special to The Forum

That message was delivered Tuesday, Dec. 7, to the North Dakota Legislature’s interim Water Topics Committee, which is examining a list of water supply and flood-protection projects.

So far, legislators have appropriated $112.3 million for the project, or 9.2% of the estimated total. Extrapolating construction progress to date would translate into a construction timeline of 30 or more years, Duane DeKrey, Garrison Diversion’s general manager, said in an interview on Wednesday.

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He expects to ask for at least that much money in the 2023 session in the hope that the project, which has been on the drawing board for years, can gain greater headway.
“If they are serious about getting it done, I think that’s the minimum we would ask for,” he said.

Legislators said during the last session that the Red River Valley Water Supply Project will rise to the top of the funding priority list once funding plans are in place for major flood control projects, including those protecting Fargo, West Fargo and Minot.

Those plans now are in place, so the water supply project for the Red River Valley — which will be capable of serving almost half of the state’s population — should now be high on the list, DeKrey said.

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This concrete discharge structure will empty Missouri River water carried by a pipeline into the Sheyenne River, a tributary of the Red River, near Cooperstown, N.D. The discharge center is part of the Red River Water Supply Project under construction. Special to The Forum

Recent studies showed the water supply project, if available, would have been used during moderate droughts in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1990s, he said. The project would have operated last summer because of the severe drought.

It isn’t clear if the drought will end next year or if it will persist, DeKrey said.

The water supply project was originally planned to provide supplemental water during extended severe droughts, such as the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

There is no official construction timeline for the pipeline project, the cost of which will be split between state and local coffers, with the state paying 75% and local municipalities or rural water systems paying 25%.

A six-year construction period, with completion in 2027, would save between $113 million and $361 million over a 10-year project completed in 2031, according to figures presented to the legislative committee.

Intake Site Aerial.jpg
An aerial view of the intake structure under construction near Washburn, N.D., that will pump Missouri River water through a pipeline to central and eastern North Dakota via the Red River Valley Water Supply Project. Special to The Forum

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Work is underway on the project. The well near Washburn has been built, and the contractor will work through the winter to build a tunnel to carry river water to the pump.

“They’ll bore all winter long,” DeKrey said.

Workers also have built a 1.2-mile section of pipeline near Carrington and the concrete outlet structure.

Duane DeKrey, manager of the Garrison Diversion Conservancy District, which oversees the Red River Water Supply Project.
Duane DeKrey, manager of the Garrison Diversion Conservancy District, which oversees the Red River Water Supply Project.

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