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Published July 20, 2010, 07:44 AM

Northwest Area Water Supply project could take years

MINOT, N.D. — When it comes to the Northwest Area Water Supply project, Minot, N.D., has gotten used to the highs of progress and the lows of delays.

MINOT, N.D. — When it comes to the Northwest Area Water Supply project, Minot, N.D., has gotten used to the highs of progress and the lows of delays.

The project recently has had yet another frustrating delay.

An additional two years of study could be necessary before any construction of a water treatment facility begins, which means the completion of the entire NAWS project could be at least five or six years down the road.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation completed an Environmental Impact Statement at the end of 2008, finding that the transfer of organisms from the Missouri River Basin to the Hudson Bay Basin is unlikely and recommended pretreating water from Lake Sakakawea before it crosses the continental divide.

Water relations

That wasn’t good enough for Manitoba, which for years has raised questions about the project and did so again after the EIS was completed. Missouri also has filed a lawsuit about the depleting of water from the Missouri River. A U.S. district judge agreed, ruling earlier this year that the bureau must study the effect of any organism transfer on Canadian waters and study any depletion of water from the Missouri River that would affect downstream states. The bureau is asking the judge to consider a study done for the Red River Valley water project that includes NAWS and any potential river depletion, which could help speed up the process, but it’s still likely to be a couple of years before any new study is done.

It’s another extremely frustrating delay in the project. The need for more clean water in northwest North Dakota was growing even before the recent boom in the oil industry. But with the oil industry’s needs for water, the NAWS project has become even more important. Meantime, Minot continues to provide water to area communities that are scheduled to eventually receive NAWS water. How long can the city continue to do that?

The state has done more than its due diligence in providing information that proves NAWS will not harm any Canadian water or do damage to the Missouri River. The project eventually will prevail in court, but the wait is becoming unreasonable.

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