NAWS waiting game still being played

The manager of a rural water district stressed the need to advance the Northwest Area Water Supply project at a meeting with legislators Thursday. Meanwhile the state engineer indicated that resolution of a lawsuit over the project could be months or even years away.

Dan Schaefer, manager of All Seasons Rural Water District, which serves north-central North Dakota, told the North Dakota Legislature’s Water Topics Overview Committee in Minot that even though residents badly need quality water, they hesitate to sign up for a project that will leave them still waiting for water years later.

“How much longer can we sit there and not start the process of providing water?” he said. “We need to move ahead.”

The project is being held up by a lawsuit filed by Manitoba over potential transfer of organisms into its water basin from the Missouri River, the proposed water source for NAWS.

State engineer Todd Sando said a draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement is due for public review in late spring. The draft could take four to six months to finalize.

“We hope by the end of the year that we might have a record of decision. That’s a big step forward,” he said.

By the end of next year, NAWS could have a ruling by the judge who ordered the Supplemental EIS in 2009, he said. In addition to Manitoba’s lawsuit, the state of Missouri jumped in to sue over potential depletion of its navigable waterway.

The lawsuit has gone on for several years. An environment assessment was completed in 2001 and an Environmental Impact Statement in 2008. Sando said a federal district judge’s decision in the case isn’t likely to settle the matter but is expected to lead to an appeal from the losing side.

Rep. Jon Nelson, R-Rugby, questioned whether the state should be looking at building a full treatment plant at Lake Sakakawea to try to resolve Canadian concerns about organism transfer and to get NAWS on track.

Sando responded that treating the water at the source isn’t likely to end the discussion.

“Even if we go with full treatment, we still have lots of issues,” he said.