Missouri sues to block project that would ultimately pipe water to Fargo during droughts

McClusky Canal Photo courtesy of Garrison Diversion Conservancy District
North Dakota aims to draw Missouri River water from the McClusky Canal, seen here, to supply water for central North Dakota and the Red River Valley via a proposed pipeline. Photo courtesy of Garrison Diversion Conservancy District

FARGO — The state of Missouri has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block the proposed Central North Dakota Project pipeline that would carry Missouri River water to the center of the state.

Missouri's lawsuit asks a judge to halt the pipeline project, which Missouri contends is “purportedly to provide water for speculative industrial uses to the presumed benefit of North Dakota counties.”

The North Dakota Garrison Diversion Conservancy District, based in Carrington, is proposing the pipeline project, which is being reviewed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The Central North Dakota Project ultimately would connect with the proposed Red River Valley Water Supply Project, which seeks to deliver Missouri River water to the Red River Valley to augment local water supplies during extreme droughts.

Missouri’s lawsuit, filed Feb. 2, argues that the Bureau of Reclamation failed to consider the “cumulative adverse impacts” of combining the central and Red River Valley water projects “and other foreseeable water diversion projects.”


In its lawsuit, Missouri contends that the Missouri River “already is substantially depleted,” and claims that a third of the river’s flows are “consumed or evaporated” by the time the water reaches Garrison Dam from the river’s headwaters.

The office of Wayne Stenehjem, the North Dakota attorney general, declined to comment Wednesday, Feb. 12, on Missouri’s lawsuit, saying it had not yet been served a copy of the complaint.


In an interview with The Forum last year, Stenehjem said if the Missouri River were reduced to a pail of water, the water to be diverted for the Red River Valley Water Supply Project would amount to a few drops.
Garrison Diversion was intended to help compensate North Dakota, which lost 500,000 acres of prime Missouri River bottomland, he said. “We’re constantly reminding them it’s the Missouri River, not the river for the state of Missouri,” Stenehjem said in May 2019.

Duane Dekrey, general manager of the Garrison Diversion Conservancy District, said the district learned of the lawsuit through news outlets. “The Bureau of Reclamation diligently completed a thorough review of the environmental impacts associated with the Central North Dakota Water Supply Project. We look forward to working with the federal agencies to move beyond Missouri’s litigation and complete this important project,” he said.

Missouri has long opposed proposals by North Dakota to divert water from the Missouri River outside the Missouri River Basin. It opposed the now-defunct Garrison Diversion Project, a canal project designed to provide significant water for irrigation, municipal and industrial water supply in eastern North Dakota.

When it became clear in 2013 that the federal Garrison Diversion Project was dead, North Dakota and the Lake Agassiz Water Authority moved ahead with the proposed $1.19 billion Red River Valley Water Supply Project.

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