Judge bars work on NAWS pipeline until EIS complete

The wait will be a little longer for some area residents hoping for service through the Northwest Area Water Supply project. A federal judge ruled Friday against additional pipeline construction this year.

U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer in Washington, D.C., has been presiding over cases filed by the Canadian province of Manitoba and state of Missouri against the NAWS project. Manitoba has raised concerns about potential transfer of organisms from the Missouri River Basin to the Hudson Bay Basin. The project proposes to bring Missouri River water to Minot and other communities to the north. Missouri is concerned about Missouri River water depletion.

The judge’s decision will halt $10 million in planned construction on about 35 miles of pipeline this year, according to NAWS project manager Tim Freije with the State Water Commission, Bismarck. The commission sought to let two contracts to build pipeline to connect Lansford, Westhope and a portion of All Seasons Rural Water Users District to NAWS.

“We provided a brief to the court and let her know what the water quality concerns are as well as the water quantity concerns. We let her know that these are still important communities to provide service to,” said Michelle Klose, assistant state engineer with the water commission.

Dan Schaefer, manager for All Seasons, Bottineau, said the water district has been counting on the additional pipeline to augment existing service from NAWS. The water district has four segments, and one segment has been receiving water from NAWS for about a year.

“This would have been just another tie-in for that same area,” Schaefer said. “It would help us better keep up during our peak seasons. With this additional connection, it would cut down a lot of pumping costs. … It gets pumped three times before it gets to where this new connection would have been.”

The area served is around Westhope, Newburg, Maxbass and east of Mohall, including customers within Newburg and Antler.

Without the existing NAWS pipeline, the area would be at risk of having to ration water during peak usage times, Schaefer said. Now, without additional pipeline, the system might not be able to get an adequate distribution of NAWS water to the area, forcing the additional use of existing groundwater supplies.

“Our hope was not to blend because the water quality that those people had in that area before wasn’t the greatest. The water we get now through NAWS is so much better,” Schaefer said.

The City of Minot has been providing its aquifer water to NAWS because the court cases have held up construction of infrastructure to bring water from Lake Sakakawea. This year’s pipeline construction was to be the last to be requested of the judge, given the limits of the city’s ability to provide water.

The judge is allowing ongoing work on the filtration system at the Minot Water Treatment Plant to be completed this year.

However, the order bars further contracts or construction until an Environmental Impact Statement is completed and approved. Klose said a draft EIS is expected this summer or fall. A final EIS could be approved sometime next year.

Klose said the judge is concerned that continuing the pipeline could affect the EIS being prepared by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Given how critical that document will be in the judge’s decision, it is important for the state to provide as much input into it as possible, she said.

“We know the focus has to be on a complete and thorough EIS,” she said.

Still uncertain is whether minor construction aspects of the NAWS project will be able to go forward this year. Klose said there are some planned turnouts along the existing line to enable North Prairie Rural Water District to access water for its customers, including the city of Carpio. The state will need to present information to the court to get a decision about those turnouts, she said.

With the judge’s previous blessing, NAWS has put about 230 miles of pipeline in the ground from Minot to area communities. Receiving water from Minot are Berthold, Burlington, Kenmare, Mohall, Sherwood, Glenburn and Minot Air Force Base. NAWS pipelines also have improved water service to Minot’s North and South Hills.