May 26, 2010

Corps reverses decision to freeze issuing water permits

By Tina Foreman
Farmer Staff Writer

Just one day after making what some considered to be a ridiculous decision, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers overturned its decision to freeze water permits from Lake Sakakawea.
The Corps had announced last week that it would freeze issuing new lake water intake permits while conducting a long-term water allocation study that could take three to seven years to complete. A decision that many people, including North Dakota’s Congressional delegation found to be unacceptable.
“The freeze wouldn’t have affected any water projects we have going in McKenzie County right now, but it most likely would have affected us in the long run,” says Gene Veeder, McKenzie County Job Development Authority. ‘Even though it wouldn’t have affected us directly, it was a ridiculous decision. Having all of this water flowing by and being told that we can’t use any of it, that just rubs you raw, even if it’s not going to affect you.”
After learning of the Corps’ intentions, the state’s Congressional delegation and Gov. John Hoeven’s office called on the Corps to reverse its decision. Following a conference call between the legislators and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy, an agreement from the Corps was secured to continue allowing permits while the study was conducted.
“I don’t know what happened,” adds Veeder. “But whatever it was, it caused the Corps to change its mind in a hurry.”
A joint statement from North Dakota’s Congressional delegation released Wednesday blasted the Corps’ initial decision. The statement said it would seriously impact communities around Lake Sakakawea, as well as be a major setback to the oil industry, which uses large amounts of water for fracing wells.
Gov. Hoeven also spoke out in opposition to the plan in a press release on Wednesday.
“Clearly, such a step would have an adverse effect on North Dakota’s rural and municipal water supplies, as well as on industrial uses such as oil recovery activities,” said Hoeven.
According to a press release from the North Dakota Congressional delegation, high-end estimates are that full development of the state’s oil fields would require 1,800 new wells to be drilled each year, at a total of four million gallons of water each. This totals 60 acre-feet of water per day, compared to the approximately 40,000 acre-feet of Missouri River water that passes through Bismarck-Mandan each day.
“It’s not just the oil industry that would suffer from a permit freeze,” adds Veeder. “There would be no permits issued for irrigation, drinking water, oil or any other purpose. It just seems ridiculous to have all of this water flowing by and not be able to use it.”
Although it’s unclear what will happen once the study is complete, for the time being, the Corps will continue issuing permits while it conducts the study.