Senators John Hoeven and Kent Conrad, Congressman Rick Berg and Governor Jack Dalrymple today said they welcome the Army Corps of Engineers' decision to begin issuing permits for municipal and industrial uses of Missouri River water. However, they emphasized that they will continue to oppose any effort to charge North Dakota businesses, farmers, ranchers and tribes fees for access to Missouri River water.
Col. Joel Cross, commander of the Corps' Omaha District, notified Hoeven, the state's congressional delegation and governor late last week that the agency plans to complete within a few weeks its first water surplus agreement with Williston-based Western International Co., which provides water management services to the oil and gas industry. The first agreement will be for about 5,000 acre feet of water, with two additional applications pending for an additional 8,000 acre feet.
Cross said the Corps has seven other applications it will begin to process for a combined total of 25,000 to 30,000 acre feet in addition to the Western International agreement. He said none of the applicants will be charged for the water at this time, but said that the Corps is working on a determination as to whether or not applicants will be charged for Missouri River water in the future.
Since 2010, the Corps has restricted access to Missouri River water and has proposed charging for storage at Lake Sakakawea and Lake Oahe to recover the costs of the nearly 60-year-old Garrison Dam project. On Thursday, as in a score of earlier meetings and phone calls with Corps leaders, Hoeven told Cross that the Corps can expect a vigorous legal challenge if it follows through on its proposal to charge North Dakotans for river water. North Dakota gave up prime lands to create the Garrison Dam in the early 1950s, and never ceded the right to use Missouri River water for municipal and industrial water supplies and irrigation.
"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, tribes and businesses for surplus water," the delegation and governor said. "That is both legally and ethically wrong, and we are united in our resolve to challenge it on all fronts -- in the courts and in Congress. Municipal, rural and industrial uses are authorized under the Dakota Water Resources Act of 2000, and the state will sue if the Corps refuses to withdraw its plan. No legal, historical or ethical basis exists for charging North Dakotans for the use of a resource that is rightfully theirs."