Massive new pipeline to protect eastern North Dakota from drought
January 26, 2022
| Massive new pipeline to protect eastern North Dakota from drought (awwa.org)
North Dakota is embarking on a massive pipeline project, drawing water from the Missouri River in the center part of the state and delivering it to the east, preparing the region for future droughts.
Once completed, the $1.22 billion Red River Valley Water Supply Project will benefit half of the state’s 770,000 residents, protecting them from a 1930s-era drought that’s predicted to occur again before 2050. (Pictured above, construction of Missouri River intake well.)
The 72-inch pipeline will stretch 167 miles along Highway 200 (map pictured left), bringing Missouri River water to roughly 30 cities and rural water systems along the way. Garrison Diversion Conservancy District, representing the state, and the Lake Agassiz Water Authority, representing local water users, are leading the effort, which will be the largest pipeline in North Dakota.
“It has been known since statehood that there’s a need for more water on the eastern side of the state,” said Kimberly Cook, communications director for the Garrison Diversion Conservancy District. “Seeing another severe drought is inevitable.”
Because most of the state is experiencing moderate, severe or extreme drought, officials are pushing to complete the project in six years, rather than 10 years as originally planned.
“Longtime farmers are saying that we’ve never seen anything like it,” said Cook (pictured right). “Acceleration of the timeline is coming from the current drought. Ten years is a long time to be constructing a project when you know that drought could start anytime. You can’t predict drought and you don’t know how long it’s going to last.”
The state is funding 75% of the project, and local users will be responsible for the rest. Cook added that an accelerated construction timeframe could make the project more affordable as materials continue to increase in price each year.
Officials also are trying to secure federal funding for a treatment plant that must be built along the pipeline to satisfy boundary waters agreements with Canada.
At its peak use, water taken from the Missouri will represent one fourth of 1% of what the river produces, or a “thimble in a 5-gallon bucket,” Cook said.
Most of eastern North Dakota is supplied by the Red River, which went dry for five months during the 1930s drought, and most ground water supplies are allocated and inadequate for human consumption.
The project is intended to provide water for municipal and industrial use – not irrigation – only during times of drought. Major industries, such as ethanol production and agriculture processing facilities, could benefit from the project, including prospective businesses that have shied away from the area in the past, concerned that an unreliable surface supply would not always provide them with water needed to operate, Cook said.
“The region continues to grow and develop, and the existing water supplies just aren’t enough,” she said. Crews started building the Missouri River intake well in central North Dakota in 2020 and the Sheyenne River discharge structure on the east in spring 2021 (pictured left).
The first 50-foot section of pipeline was buried near Carrington, N.D., last August (pictured right). Engineers used American Water Works Association manuals and standards for design and will continue referencing them throughout construction, said Kip Kovar, the project’s deputy program manager.
There are unique geographical challenges to building such a massive pipeline. Temperatures during North Dakota winters routinely dip well below zero, making it difficult to construct the project year-round.
And the state is known for extreme weather patterns, forcing local municipalities to build flood-control projects at the same time that they fund water-supply efforts. But, because the state’s topography is so flat, it’s difficult to build storage reservoirs to hold onto that flood water for dry years.
“We have massive floods, then drought. Massive flooding, then drought,” Cook said. “People don’t always understand, especially from outside of the region, why we need this project so much. From a communications standpoint, that has been a challenge.”
But, Cook said, the Red River Valley Water Supply Project is crucial to the economic vitality and wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of North Dakotans.
“Just having a reliable supply of water and not having to worry about where your water is going to come from in the future is so important,” she said. “We’ve known the water has been needed in that area and that drought is inevitable. We’re really excited that we can be doing something to benefit so much of the state."