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Red River Valley mayors hopeful water supply project will get additional funds from Legislature

The request for the 2023-2025 biennium in state funding is $255 million

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BISMARCK – Mayors in the Red River Valley are hopeful the North Dakota Legislature will move ahead with requested funding for a water supply project and save the cities some money in the process.

Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski joined Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney and West Fargo Mayor Bernie Dardis to talk about the Red River Valley Water Supply Project and the need for the project to move forward during a Senate Appropriations hearing on Jan. 19.

The Red River Water Supply Project is an effort to “provide an emergency water supply to central and eastern North Dakota during times of water scarcity so as to protect public health, ensure ongoing economic vitality and provide for environmental benefits in the river systems,” according to the project’s website.

The total cost of the project is $1.3 billion, but with inflation, the price likely will increase. Alan Walter, chairman of The Garrison Diversion Conservancy District Board, said if legislators hold off on the project, it could cost $75-100 million more every year.

“It’s important that we get this project underway and funded as fast as we can to save hundreds of millions of dollars for the state and for the people of North Dakota,” Walter said during Thursday’s hearing.

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The request for the 2023-25 biennium in state funding is $255 million, which Bochenski told the Herald in an interview Monday is an $85 million increase from the $170 million in Gov. Doug Burgum’s budget.

"With that a lot of the $170 million was some reserve funds that were set aside for water projects that's getting completed. So it wasn't all money from just this biennium," Bochenski said. "So with that I think there's the hope that we get close to that number and keep that project moving along."

Using a 75% state cost-share would leverage an additional $85 million in local funding for a total of $340 million. The 2023-25 work plan accounts for shovel-ready construction for 43 miles of pipeline and continued design for 40 miles of pipeline.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of the project happening or not — it’s just a matter of timing," Bochenski said. "With inflation and everything else, trying to get that done sooner rather than later makes a lot of sense.”

Crews broke ground on the pipeline and laid the first segment of the project in August 2021. The finished 165-mile underground pipeline will transmit water from the Missouri River near Washburn, North Dakota, east to the Sheyenne River and eventually into the Red River Valley watershed, where it can supply cities like Grand Forks and Fargo during times of extreme drought.

In addition to supplying Grand Forks and Fargo, Dardis said other towns will benefit as well.

“There are 27 other entities that are along this corridor and that’s the critical thing,” Dardis said during the hearing. “... This is going to be a water supply for many rural water systems, as well as smaller communities.”

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The project also has been described as an economic development incentive. Dardis said cities in North Dakota have lost some opportunities for industrial expansion due to water supply concerns.

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Industrial expansion in Grand Forks encompasses the proposed Fufeng wet corn mill plant and Epitome Energy soybean crush facility. Both projects are still in the development stages.

“Grand Forks has seen a lot of growth in the agribusiness (sector), which is usually heavy water users. So it comes down to Grand Forks’ reliability of that water,” Bochenski said during the hearing.

Bochenski said in Grand Forks, the RRVWSP would serve as a backup in case a 1930s-style drought were to occur.

“It does help to show that there’s a lot of economic activity and having the Red River Valley Water Supply as a backup, I think, gives a stable and consistent water supply that industrial users would want to see," he said. "For Grand Forks it’s really a backup plan and not a primary source.”

Dardis said the amount of water that would be used from the Missouri River can be described as “a drop in the bucket.”

“One of North Dakota’s greatest natural resources accounts for 95% of North Dakota’s water supply,” he said. “We’re only going to be using 1% of the water flowing through our state and I think that’s an important point.”

With other states asking for funding to go toward their own water supply projects, Dardis reiterated the need for support and funding for the RRVWSP.

“It is imperative, and we respectfully request of you to help us fund this for the next biennium because we can’t let these other type of projects from out of state get in front of us,” he said during the meeting.

Meghan Arbegast grew up in Security-Widefield, Colorado. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from North Dakota State University in Fargo, in 2021.

Arbegast wrote for The Spectrum, NDSU's student newspaper, for three years and was Head News Editor for two years. She was an intern with University Relations her last two semesters of college.

Arbegast covers news pertaining to the city of Grand Forks/East Grand Forks including city hall coverage.

Readers can reach Arbegast at 701-780-1267 or MArbegast@gfherald.com.

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