Senator John Hoeven today provided testimony at a public meeting in Bismarck of the Army Corps of Engineers, saying that he will fight aggressively their decision to move forward with plans to charge North Dakota businesses, farmers, ranchers and tribes for access to Missouri River water. The Corps has announced it will begin the rule making process to establish "a fair and equitable pricing methodology" for determining what it will charge residents and businesses.
In exchange for losing prime lands to create the Garrison Dam in the early 1950s, North Dakotans were promised the ability to use Missouri River water for municipal and industrial water supplies and irrigation.
Hoeven said that no legal, historical or ethical basis exists for charging North Dakotans for the use of a resource that is rightfully theirs, and he made it clear that he will recommend the state take the matter to court if the Corps refuses to withdraw its plan.
"After nearly 60 years since the Garrison Dam was completed, and 50 years after Oahe, the Corps should not arbitrarily start charging the citizens of North Dakota for their water, the very same water that has always flowed through the state and on occasion flooded our lands," Hoeven said. "At a time when we're trying to use Missouri River water for productive purposes, they now say they are going to charge our cities, towns and businesses for surplus water. That is wrong on legal as well as ethical grounds. Municipal, rural and industrial uses are authorized under the Dakota Water Resources Act of 2000, and I will encourage the state to sue in the courts if the Corps refuses to withdraw its plan."
"The heart of this reallocation issue is North Dakota's right to the natural flows of the Missouri River and the refusal of the Corps through your reallocation process to recognize natural flows," he said. "The State of North Dakota has the authority to allocate the natural flows of the Missouri River for beneficial uses, both along the 92 miles of free flowing stretches in our state and the 262 miles of reservoir boundaries created by the Corps as a result of the Garrison Dam. The Corps, with this proposed reallocation policy, is attempting to usurp and overwrite the States' right to manage the water within its borders."
In meetings and phone calls with Corps leaders, as well as his testimony today, Hoeven cited the negative economic impact of assessing water fees on North Dakota's businesses, ranchers and farmers, and the complete lack of precedent for doing so.
In December 2011, the Corps released the Lake Sakakawea Draft Surplus Water Report and Environmental Assessment, which proposed restricting access to Missouri River water and charging for storage at Lake Sakakawea to recover the costs of the nearly 60-year-old Garrison Dam project.
"Our state's residents, tribes and businesses were promised compensation for the disruptions they faced when the Garrison Dam was created," said Hoeven. "It's unfair and illogical to renege on this promise and turn around and charge them for access to water stored on our land. We'll keep working to right this wrong."