Changes to House bill don’t sway rural water districts

A drastically amended House bill takes a friendlier approach to conflicts between rural water districts and growing cities, but the attorney for one water district said the new wording still doesn’t solve the problem.

The North Dakota House approved House Bill 1440 on an 83-10 vote Tuesday.

The newly worded bill spells out how transfers of service territory and infrastructure should occur between a water district and a city that is annexing property being developed. The City of Surrey, which supported the original bill language, also supports the amended version because it hopes to expand its water distribution system into annexed areas that lie within North Prairie Rural Water District’s territory. North Prairie provides water to Surrey, but the distribution system is city-owned.

Jim Maxson, Minot attorney for North Prairie, said federal law, which pre-empts state law, does not allow transfer of territory when a water district holds a federal loan. North Prairie receives its construction funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program. The purpose of the federal law is to ensure that water districts have the ability to serve new developments so they can repay their subsidized loans, he said.

If the bill becomes law, Maxson said his opinion is it would not withstand a court test.

“It’s a waste of taxpayer money the State of North Dakota trying to defend the indefensible,” he said.

Mason suggested cities request a law change at the federal level. However, he added, “It’s hard to believe Congress will make it more difficult for their borrowers to repay their loans.”

Minot Republicans, Reps. Andrew Maragos and Roscoe Streyle, and Sen. Oley Larsen are among co-sponsors of HB 1440. The bill now goes to the North Dakota Senate.