Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem announced today that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has agreed to begin issuing temporary, no-cost permits for water usage along North Dakota's Missouri River. Dalrymple and Stenehjem spoke today with Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, and Craig Schmauder, Deputy General Counsel for the Army, who said the Corps plans to begin issuing water permits.
"Today's action by the Corps is only the first step in the state's efforts to regain its rights to the natural flows to the Missouri River," Dalrymple said. "Water users with pending permits will now have access to the river. The U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Army has assured us they will begin issuing permits without any further unnecessary delay."
In May 2010, the Corps began blocking access to the Missouri River and has refused to act on requests to issue water permits.
Darcy told Dalrymple and Stenehjem today that water users in North Dakota will not be charged a water fee while the Corps develops a proposed national surplus water policy. About 100,000 acre feet of water will be available in Lake Sakakawea, which is expected to meet the state's short-term needs. During the next 18 months, the Corps will conduct studies and provide a public comment period in an effort to develop a national surplus water policy that is expected to impose water fees.
Dalrymple told Darcy that North Dakota should be exempted from any one-size-fits-all policy that fails to take into account the Missouri River's unique circumstances, including its sustained, year-round flows through Lake Sakakawea. North Dakota citizens gave up about 550,000 acres of prime farmland and resources for construction of the reservoir and any move by the Corps to charge the citizens of North Dakota for their own water is unacceptable, he said.
Stenehjem said the Missouri River is the rightful property of the state of North Dakota and should be readily available without cost. "We will vigorously defend our legal right to the natural flows of the Missouri River which were guaranteed to us at statehood," he said.