September 2, 2009


By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

Several years ago when the McKenzie County Water Resource District was organized,  people across McKenzie County that were to be served by the new rural water system were thrilled beyond words to finally be receiving drinking water that was far superior to their existing well water. They could hardly wait to be able to wash clothes on their farm or ranch without all of their clothes coming out of the washing machine tainted reddish brown from all of the high concentrations of iron and other naturally-occurring chemicals found in their water.
While rural water customers were no doubt delighted to finally have “better than farm well water,” in all reality, the quality of water that they were getting from their rural water system really wasn’t all that good. After all, it was simply treated Watford City water, the same water that flows through the pipes to Watford City residents. And if you ask most residents of Watford City, they don’t drink the stuff coming out of the tap unless they have to. That’s why most of the restaurants in Watford City and many homeowners maintain their own reverse osmosis systems to produce the drinking water that they need.
While the city’s water is safe, it is does have very high levels of iron, manganese, calcium, phosphates, dissolved solids, sodium and bicarbonate. In other words, the best that can probably be said for the city’s water is that it’s wet.
Three weeks ago, the McKenzie County Farmer carried a front page story outlining a proposal that would create an Upper Missouri Water Supply Consortium that would bring high quality water that would be treated at the City of Williston’s water treatment plant into the western part of McKenzie County, supply portions of the county’s rural system and Watford City.
While the proposal is still very much in its infancy, it is something that the City of Watford City and the McKenzie County Commissioners need to seriously study.
As we all know, there is very little that can be done to greatly improve the quality of water that Watford City is pulling out of the ground and then being treated in an old water treatment plant.
The plus side of forming a partnership between the City of Williston, Williams County, the City of Watford City and McKenzie County to bring treated Missouri River water into the county are many.
First, Missouri River water is far superior to any well water, both in quality and in quantity. And now is a good time for the people of western North Dakota to stake their claim to a portion of the water rights of the Missouri River. Unless the people of North Dakota begin claiming their rights to a portion of this massive river, other states will continue to lay claim to it.
Second, sharing the cost of maintaining Williston’s treatment plant should result in better water rates to all users. It’s far more economical to share the cost of remodeling projects with many other users than asking a few users, such as Watford City and existing rural water customers, to bear the full cost of replacing the city’s water treatment facility.
Third, although the initial cost of converting to a larger water distribution network may be high, over the long run, the cost of providing quality water would be cheaper.
Ensuring quality water for years into the future for the residents of Watford City and McKenzie County needs to be one of the highest priorities for our local officials. And exploring the feasibility of bringing treated Missouri River water into McKenzie County would go a long way in achieving that goal.