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By Caroline Downs
Progress on the Northwest Area Water Supply (NAWS) project continues to trickle along, despite a lawsuit in federal court that has required a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) about the project’s design and treatment plans.
The NAWS Advisory Committee heard a progress report March 27th from Alicia Waters, who leads the team writing that SEIS for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation at the Dakotas Area Office in Bismarck. “The court has asked us to look at two specific items,” she told the committee members. “One would be the consequences to the Hudson Bay Basin in Canada if there was a transfer of biota from the Missouri River watershed. The second is the effects of the depletion of water out of the Missouri River system.”
She noted the consulting firm Cardno ENTRIX has been hired to assist in preparing the SEIS. “Our goal in doing the SEIS is to have everything reviewed and refreshed as needed,” she said.
The original Environmental Impact Statement for the NAWS project, which only addressed impacts of the proposed treatment plant for Missouri River water, was drafted in 2001 and included data collected to that point. Waters explained the National Environmental Policy Act required a five-year time frame for information presented. “That’s why we’re refreshing information as needed,” she said. “If a change has occurred since we put together the first document, then we explain that. We plan to submit a full, comprehensive document so if the court has a question, they can look at the document.”
She mentioned four steps in the process, including a consequence analysis for drawing Missouri River water, a needs assessment to show the necessity of the complete project and demand for water, and engineering work to address each alternative design concept listed for the project, followed by an impact analysis to illustrate the environmental and economic impact of the proposed alternatives.
“Our goal is to have a draft available for public review this fall,” Waters said, adding that the public would have a 60-day period for comment and public hearings.
The SEIS team will then address the public comments and complete the final draft, with a record of decision published in regard to the preferred alternative. “At that point, we can return to the court and file a motion that we have completed the task as requested,” said Waters. “Then we wait to hear from the court.”
NAWS committee member Wanda Emerson asked for a date the completed SEIS would be submitted, but Waters hesitated with her answer. “Maybe a year from now, with a lot of caveats, depending on the comments received,” she said.
Waters and Michelle Klose of the ND State Water Commission emphasized the significance of the needs assessment being conducted for the SEIS and the role communities and water districts needed to play in that study. “For the next month, we’ll be contacting communities and asking this question,” said Klose. “If you didn’t have the NAWS project moving forward, what facilities or components of your facilities would you have to update or replace in order to provide water in your systems?”
She continued, “And if the communities have anything else you want the State Water Commission to know [about water needs as related to NAWS], you need to let us know in a timely fashion.”
The SEIS will also have a new section addressing the effect of NAWS on climate change, considering first how various types of construction activity might contribute to greenhouse gases and then how climate change could impact the Missouri River system.
According to Waters, the Bureau of Reclamation is already collecting and recording data regarding climate change issues. “We’re projecting this portion of the Missouri River will be a wetter region,” she said.
Klose said the long-term projections for flows in the Missouri River system looked favorable. “When we look at the Missouri River system, you’re actually seeing an increase in the availability of water,” she said, “compared to other river systems in the West.”
Even with the apparently good news about a reliable water supply, NAWS Advisory Committee members wanted assurance of a reliable date for completion of the SEIS, leading to possible resolution of the lawsuits filed by the province of Manitoba and state of Missouri.
“We’re hoping for this fall,” Waters told the board. “We’re always cautious to make sure we’re doing it correctly. I think the deadline is very achievable.”
Work on the SEIS for the NAWS project involves representatives from the Bureau of Reclamation, EPA Region 8, Army Corps of Engineers, North Dakota State Water Commission, North Dakota Department of Health, City of Minot and the Garrison Diversion Conservancy District.
Despite the lack of new federal funding for the NAWS project along with poor weather and flood-related delays in 2011, construction continues on the distribution system.
Kevin Martin, of Houston Engineering, Inc. in Bismarck, reported the one-year walk-through had been completed for the NAWS storage tank at Kenmare, with a few minor issues to complete on the pipeline there.
He noted work on filter reconstruction at the Minot water treatment center was 40 to 45 percent completed, pipeline on the eastern portion of the system from North Hill in Minot to the Minot Air Force Base was 50 percent completed, and pipeline from MAFB to Glenburn, which will be served by the Upper Souris Water District, was 75 percent completed.
Pipeline installation on the Mohall-Sherwood-All Seasons line stopped last year after the contractor went bankrupt, according to Martin, but he assured the Committee the matter would be resolved and the work completed.
Martin said pipeline segments from the Renville Corner to the All Seasons pump station near Westhope and from Glenburn to the Renville Corner were in design, as time and funding allowed. He also noted future projects on the system would include the construction of pump stations between MAFB and Kenmare, along with two more pipeline segments to distribute water to Bottineau.
“I would like to see all the pipe in the ground,” said NAWS Advisory Committee Chair Bob Schempp of Minot. “I’d like to be able to say we have 70,000 people waiting for the water. Then, all we need is the pipeline from the river and the treatment plant.”
Klose assured him the project would continue. “We’ll have construction going on next year as well, and at that point, we will be approaching the court [with the SEIS],” she said. “The timing is falling into place fairly well. We still recognize there are [water] needs out there, and our intention is still for providing service.”
NAWS system now
The Committee approved a motion made by Gary Hager of the Upper Souris Water District to adopt a policy permitting funds collected for the Replacement and Extraordinary Maintenance (REM) account to be used for NAWS facilities, with the State Water Commission given the administrative authority over those funds.
The action was taken following a request by the city of Rugby for reimbursement of $57,488.34 paid for repairs and improvements necessary for their treatment plant. Rugby went online with NAWS in 1999.
All communities receiving water under a NAWS contract, including Kenmare, Berthold, Rugby and Minot, pay fees at the rate of 15 cents per 1000 gallons of water to the REM account. “That calculation was based on 10 percent of replacement costs of the system at the time,” Klose explained. “We’ve been in such a construction phase, we haven’t looked at replacement.”
She noted the State Water Commission would be establishing a policy regarding the use of REM funds.
Committee personnel changes
Wanda Emerson, a former city council member and mayor of Mohall, announced her retirement from the NAWS Advisory Committee. She joined the Committee in 1995.
Minot Public Works Director Alan Walter presented Emerson with a “North Dakota Water Wheel Award,” and described her as a tenacious and persistent voice for water issues in northwestern North Dakota.
Emerson recommended Roger Ness, mayor of Kenmare, as her replacement as a NAWS representative for small communities on the Advisory Committee. Klose noted the State Water Commission would be finalizing the decision within the next few weeks and invited recommendations for other persons who might be interested in serving on the Advisory Committee.
Walter, who retired March 30th from his position with the city of Minot, agreed to sit on the NAWS Advisory Committee as an ex-officio member and continue to assist with the project.