Posted 5/04/11 (Wed)
By Tina Foreman
Farmer Staff Writer
Shortly before ending the 2011 legislative session, lawmakers approved financing for a $150 million water pipeline project that will supply McKenzie County residents and western North Dakota’s oil industry with water.
The Western Area Water Supply (WAWS) project will take water from the Missouri River near Williston and pipe it to McKenzie, Williams, Mountrail, Burke and Divide counties.
The Williston water treatment plant treats water from the Missouri River for the residents of Williston, as well as those connected to a pipeline that runs north of the city. The WAWS project will expand the treatment plant and run pipeline to the other counties.
“This project will provide water to a lot of people who otherwise wouldn’t have access,” says Denton Zubke, McKenzie County Water Resource District chairman. “The most important part of the legislative action on this project is timing.”
The WAWS project could have been completed without going to the Legislature for financial help, but it would have taken five to 10 years for the project to be completed. By going through the Legislature, the project should be completed within two to four years.
“Our first priority is to bring water to those in the rural Alexander area,” says Gene Veeder, McKenzie County Water Resource District vice chairman. “Once that is complete, water will continue to flow throughout the county and into Watford City.”
WAWS will bring water to all residents in the county who want it as well as to the oil industry.
“We were able to fast-track this project because of the oil industry’s need for water,” adds Veeder. “The $150 million in loans will be repaid by selling water to the oil industry. When the boom slows down and the oil industry doesn’t need the water, WAWS will already be paid for and our residents will still have good quality water.”
Involving the oil industry in WAWS caused some controversy, but in the end, the industry is why the project was fast-tracked.
“The oil industry is here now and they need water for fracing now,” says Veeder. “By going around the traditional way of funding for water projects, we are able to connect residents to water as well as help the oil industry now, and even though we are borrowing the money, we are borrowing it from the state, so it will all get returned.”
Although the water will be used by the oil industry, Veeder is excited about the impacts it will have on other industries as well.
“The project will bring a fresh, strong supply of water to the entire county, and when the oil boom is gone, the water will still be there for other industries,” adds Veeder. “Without this project, residents and industry in McKenzie County can only build where there is a supply of water. This project will broaden that supply.”
With financing lined out, construction on WAWS can get underway and residents can rest assured that good quality water will soon be flowing their way.
“It is not possible for me to thank all the individuals or organizations that have contributed to this project. These projects are hard and it takes tremendous support locally and across the state. You know who you are and my heartfelt thanks,” states Zubke. “We are bringing water to people and we are using the opportunity presented by the oil industry to do it. I am very happy and very proud that I could be a part of it. From the beginning we said this is a win for everyone from the local residents in water quality and quantity, to the oil industry for water needs, to the state and the state residents in increased tax revenue. Now it’s time to get our hands dirty as the real work starts!”