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North Dakota gets legal win in cross-border water dispute

by Ilene Grossman ~ October 2017 ~ Stateline Midwest »
A cross-border legal dispute in the Midwest over water came closer to reaching a conclusion this summer when a U.S. District Court lifted injunctions that had prevented North Dakota from completing its $200 million Northwest Area Water Supply project.
A lawsuit to stop the project was filed by the province of Manitoba in 2002; seven years later, the state of Missouri joined the suit against North Dakota. Those two jurisdictions filed an appeal in October of the District Court's ruling. North Dakota's plan is to divert water from the Missouri River for use by the town of Minot and other communities in the northwest part of the state.
“We’ve had communities in violation of primary drinking water regulations, [with] declining aquifer levels and declining water quality,” says North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, explaining the need for the diversion.
Manitoba officials say the quality of their water resources is threatened by these plans to divert water, via a 45-mile pipeline, from the Missouri River Basin to the Hudson Bay Basin. Of particular concern is the interbasin transfer of non-native species and bacteria via the Souris River watershed, where water runs from northwest North Dakota into Manitoba.
A 2015 environmental impact study by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation required a more stringent process for treating the diverted water, and a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement established a biota treatment protocol.
“All water will be treated to drinking water standards, and arguably beyond drinking water standards ... before the water crosses the continental divide,” Stenehjem says. He adds that North Dakota is “very sensitive to the concerns of our Canadian neighbors.”
In its decision, the U.S. district court ruled that the plan met federal standards under the U.S. National Environmental Protection Act. Missouri’s concerns are based on the withdrawal of water from the Missouri River and its impact on downstream residents; however, the court refused to give that state standing to sue on behalf of its citizens.