Manitoba experts fear N.D. water plan harmful here

Posted: Aug 17 2017

Winnipeg Sun
Joyanne Pursaga
Sunday, August 13, 2017, 2:19 PM

A proposal to address drought in the U.S. by shifting water into the Red River Valley has sparked fears of invasive species and added pollution in Manitoba.

But those who support the Red River Valley Water Supply Project say it would send only treated water up to Canada and much less of it than a previous failed proposal envisioned.

The State of North Dakota has budgeted up to $30 million for the project, including $17 million for planning and permitting, and $13 million for construction, pending approvals. Duane DeKrey, general manager of the Garrison Diversion Conservancy District in North Dakota, said the project still awaits several approvals but he’s optimistic construction will be permitted.

The project includes sending water from the Missouri River to Eastern North Dakota at times of drought. That water would flow into the Sheyenne River and ultimately wind up in the Red River and eventually head north.

DeKrey said that process would secure multiple municipal water supplies.

“On both sides of the Red River, there are 260,000 people that don’t have a stable water supply, so the goal of this project is to take the uncertainty out,” he said.

A previous version of the plan primarily meant for irrigation, which Manitoba fought against, would have sent raw (untreated) water directly into the Cheyenne River, then the Red River, which DeKrey believes differs greatly from the current plan.

“This is nowhere near raw water and the volume is 1/10th of what the original volume was,” DeKrey said.

But a Manitoba water expert fears the transfer bring major risks to Manitoba waterways.

“Whenever you are proposing to transfer water from one watershed to another, there is always a tremendous risk,” said Eva Pip, a retired University of Winnipeg biology professor.

Pip said the water heading north would contain sulfate, chloride and possible invasive species, as well as additional phosphorous and nitrogen, two nutrients that fuel algae growth on Lake Winnipeg.

The project website lists three sewage treatment options being considered: a $23-million sand and silt removal; a $54-million clarification, chlorination and dichlorination process; and a $233-million “extensive treatment” that would add filtration and UV disinfection to the middle option. Pip said even the most expensive option wouldn’t effectively remove all pollution.

“There are many, many risks. The trouble is, as we’ve seen with zebra mussels, once it’s happened, you can never, ever take it back,” Pip said. “And all it takes is one (water treatment) failure for us to get an irreversible problem.”

Manitoba’s NDP environment critic Rob Altemeyer said he’s concerned the project raises too many unanswered questions.

“Our provincial government and federal government need to be raising this concern immediately with North Dakota ... to make sure that Manitoba’s water rights are being protected,” Altemeyer said.

Niigaan Sinclair, an associate native studies professor at the University of Manitoba, said he’s also concerned about potential impact on flood-prone First Nations communities.

“I have a real concern with the livelihood of First Nations on this project and whether they’ve actually been consulted,” Sinclair said.

Manitoba Sustainable Development Minister Cathy Cox could not be reached for an interview Friday. In an email, Cox wrote that Manitoba is concerned about inter-basin water transfers in North Dakota due to “serious ecological consequences that would result from the introduction of harmful invasive species and aquatic diseases from the Missouri River Basin into Manitoba’s rivers and lakes.” Cox committed to protect Manitoba water against that risk.

When asked if Premier Brian Pallister had discussed the project with the North Dakota government, a spokesman confirmed the premier met with the state’s governor in June “on issues of shared importance” but didn’t offer additional detail.

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