The state of North Dakota is looking again at the controversial Garrison Diversion water plan
to move water out of the Missouri River for use in the Red River Valley.
State officials say more water is needed to stave off the threat of future shortages in the Red River Valley. A draft
environmental impact statement, released by the state last week, evaluated several possible options to obtain more water.
The 350-page report indicates the state prefers a Garrison Diversion option that would move water from the Missouri
River through more than 190 kilometres of pipeline to the Sheyenne River, which joins the Red River near Fargo.
The province of Manitoba has long opposed the Garrison Diversion proposal, which has been discussed since the 1960s,
over concerns about the possible transfer of foreign species from the Missouri River drainage basin to the Red River Drainage
Basin, which includes Lake Winnipeg.
Rick Nelson with the U.S. federal Bureau of Reclamation, which was involved in the study, says there are limited concerns
about the transfer of foreign species from one watershed to another, since the water would be treated before leaving the Missouri
Other changes to the 40-year-old plan also make it more feasible today, he said.
"The project has changed significantly from its original formulation in 1965," he said. "There is no irrigation component
in this project, and the old project, of course, would have been a series of open canals and ditches that would have transferred
water, and this to a great extent would be piped water."
Environmentalists question need for diversion
Environmentalists in Manitoba are not pleased to hear the old project is being discussed again.
"That'll be a major impact to our fisheries here in the province … and then it'll set a precedent as to, you
know, we can exchange water from one basin to the other freely across our international line or border," Glen Koroluk of the
Koroluk also disputed North Dakota's claims to require more water in the future. The state is projecting a significant
population boom in the Red River Valley, which would, in part, fuel the water shortages.
"The amount of water that they're predicting that then need in 50 years is based on a false prediction of what their
population figures are. They're expecting some kind of boom happening in the Red River Valley, which isn't the case. North
Dakota is actually losing population over the last 10, 15 years. So, what we have to do is use our water more efficiently,"
A provincial spokesperson raised similar concerns, saying Manitoba opposes any diversion of the Missouri River into
the Red River Basin.
However, Nelson says opponents shouldn't jump to conclusions before finding out all the details on the new proposal.
"I think it's important that people evaluate the environmental impact statement so that everybody fully understands
what the project is and what the project is not, and this is a public process," he said.
"We are to disclose what we plan to do, how we plan to do it and what those positive and negative impacts are. So I
think it's important that people understand what this project involves and what the alternatives that we are evaluating involve."
The state is holding a series of public hearings around North Dakota in February on its
plans. The federal government will identify its preferred alternative when the final environmental impact statement is released,
not more than a year from now.