Bureau releases draft plan for moving NAWS forward

An environmental study on the Northwest Area Water Project recommends a $207 million alternative that will enable the project to move forward in bringing Missouri River water to the Minot region, although the water would be blended with existing groundwater sources.

The recommendation includes pre-treatment before piping the water to the Minot Water Treatment Plant for final treatment. Annual operation, maintenance and replacement costs are estimated at $10.5 million.

The recommendations were included in the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for NAWS issued Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which has set a public hearing for July 23 in Minot.

Minot Mayor Curt Zimbelman said it is important to get to this point so that NAWS can continue to advance.

“I hope that this will show that there is no problem environmentally and we can move forward,” he said.

The Draft SEIS addresses Manitoba’s concerns about the transfer of aquatic species from the Missouri River to the Souris River Basin, which extends into Canada. Missouri also objected on the grounds that too much upstream water would be drawn off the river.

A U.S. District Court judge in Washington, D.C., had ordered the project to be put on hold in 2010 pending the environmental study, which followed a previous environmental studies. No water from Lake Sakakawea has been brought into the NAWS system, although much of the pipeline is in place and several communities are being served through Minot’s existing water system.

NAWS is designed to bring water to a 10-county area of northwestern North Dakota, extending as far east as Bottineau. Federal funds are expected to cover 65 percent of the cost.

“It has been a long road since we announced back in 2001 that the NAWS project had been federally approved and we began construction,” Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said in a prepared statement. “Today’s report represents a big step forward, but we won’t know for sure if we’re good to go until the judge rules that the proposed plan in the SEIS is sufficient. What is clear now, however, is the need to get good drinking water to Minot and the rural northern tier of our state. It was an important project at the beginning, and it’s even more important today with the population of virtually every northwestern county growing. This vital piece of infrastructure has been years in the making, but it’s coming right in time to meet the needs of our expanding economy and growing population.”

When completed, NAWS will provide up to 26 million gallons of Missouri River water per day to more than 63,000 residents of North Dakota, according to Hoeven’s office. With additional rural development, the system could serve up to 81,000 residents. The system is designed to provide service through 2060.

The alternative presented in the Draft SEIS for completing NAWS uses Lake Sakakawea as a primary water supply and creates an intake by modifying the existing Snake Creek Pumping Plant at a cost of about $14 million.

A biota water treatment plant using chlorination and ultraviolet disinfection would be built in the Missouri River Basin to treat the water to avoid any potential for organism transfer when the water moves by buried pipeline to the Minot. In Minot, the water will be blended with water from the Minot and Sundre aquifers and treated.

The preferred alternative would not require additional water permits and would not impact the Souris River nor the J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge and would have minimal effect on the Missouri River, according to the study.

The risk of a project-related transfer of an invasive species would be much smaller than the risk of transfer through non-project pathways, the study concludes. However, the pre-treatment is proposed to further reduce the risk.

The Bureau of Reclamation will hold an open house on the Draft SEIS on July 23 from 6 to 6:30 p.m. in Minot’s Comfort Inn, followed by the public hearing from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

The hearing will provide an opportunity for both verbal and written comments.

Written comments also may be submitted to Northwest Area Water Supply Project Draft SEIS, Bureau of Reclamation, P.O. Box 1017, Bismarck, N.D., 58502-1017 by Aug. 11.

The Draft SEIS can be downloaded from (www.usbr.gov/gp/dkao).