Army Corps Could Charge for Missouri River Water

by | Jan 7, 2013

The US Army Corps of Engineers will begin issuing permits for industrial and municipal uses of Missouri River water, and is considering charging for surplus river water in the future.

The Corps plans to complete this month its first water surplus agreement with Williston, N.D.-based Western International Co., which provides water management services to the oil and gas industry, according to Col. Joel Cross, commander of the Corps’ Omaha District. The first agreement will be for about 5,000 acre feet of water, with two additional applications pending for an additional 8,000 acre feet.

Cross said the Corps has seven other applications it will begin to process for a combined total of 25,000 to 30,000 acre feet in addition to the Western International agreement. He said none of the applicants will be charged for the water at this time.

Since 2010, the Corps has restricted access to Missouri River water and has proposed charging for storage at Lake Sakakawea and Lake Oahe to recover the costs of the nearly 60-year-old Garrison Dam project.

Before the end of the last Congress, North Dakota senators John Hoeven (who has retained his seat) and Kent Conrad (who did not seek reelection) along with then-congressman Rick Berg and governor Jack Dalrymple, said they welcome the decision on permitting but will continue to oppose any effort to charge North Dakota businesses, farmers, ranchers and tribes fees for access to Missouri River water. The delegation threatened a legal challenge, if necessary, to ensure North Dakotans do not have to pay to use surplus water.

Municipal, rural and industrial uses are authorized under the Dakota Water Resources Act of 2000, Hoeven said, and the state will sue if the Corps does not withdraw its fee proposal.

The state officials said that while North Dakota gave up land to create the Garrison Dam in the early 1950s, it never ceded the right to use Missouri River water for municipal and industrial water supplies and irrigation.

Last week, regulators and industry trade groups warned low water levels could shut down commerce on a key stretch of the Mississippi River, disrupting shipments worth billions of dollars. The Corps, with help from the US Coast Guard, is working to remove underwater rock pinnacles that are getting in the way of barges.

Today, the Corps and Coast Guard will brief Illinois officials about the efforts to clear the Mississippi River bedrock, WPSD Local 6 reports.

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