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Forum editorial: Valley water a priority

The slowdown in North Dakota's energy- and ag-dependent economy should not mean needs that have gone unmet for decades should continue to go unmet. That is particularly true of projects that are designed to deal with water: too much water and not...

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The slowdown in North Dakota’s energy- and ag-dependent economy should not mean needs that have gone unmet for decades should continue to go unmet. That is particularly true of projects that are designed to deal with water: too much water and not enough water.
While expectations of appropriations might have to be dialed down, the urgency of water projects mandates that funding should not dry up – or even be squeezed to the point that significant progress is not possible. Flood work in Fargo, Minot and other cities should move at a pace commensurate with the threat. And just as urgent is progress on guaranteeing a reliable water supply for Fargo and other Red River Valley communities and farms.
The water supply issue is not as exciting as flood control. There has been no crippling water shortage in Fargo for generations. Droughts in the 1930s and 1980s were serious, but memories are short. A few dry years do not constitute a drought. Water restrictions have been wise conservation, but not emergency measures.
It could change in a couple of seasons. When asked, local officials put two priorities on the list: flood control and water supply. The latter has been on the list since the Fargo administration of Mayor Bruce Furness. Even as floods nearly consumed the city in 1997, 2009 and 2011, the specter of diminishing water supply has always been in the public policy portfolio.
To that end, a Red River Valley water supply project has been in the preliminary planning stages for some time, with more focused planning underway in the past few years. During the revenue flood of the oil boom, state funding for the project moved up the list at the Legislature and state Water Commission. It is still on the list, but the revenue picture has changed. Now the concern among lawmakers is that the Resource Trust Fund, which is used to pay for water projects, will not have the money projected during the oil boom, so tough choices will have to be made.
Fewer dollars certainly mean less funding for water projects. But it should not mean a reduction in funding for the valley water supply project that would, in effect, stall progress. Legislators on a key water projects committee said they will do “everything we can” to keep planning going. If that means going at a meaningful pace, that is good news. If it means a few dollars to keep the project running in place, it’s not progress.
Everyone understands the state’s economic slowdown translates into fewer dollars for major project investment. But priorities still must be considered, and one of those top priorities that has not been given sufficient attention in recent years is a water supply for the eastern cities and counties. Lawmakers must keep that in mind as they manage the state’s money.

Editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.

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