At a time when flooding has been the predominant concern along the lower Missouri River, the Missouri Attorney General’s Office announced Wednesday it and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources have filed suit against federal and state agencies and federal officials over concerns a project in North Dakota will divert too much water from the river.
“Diverting additional water from the Missouri River prior to the Garrison Dam will inevitably lead to reduced storage and less water released from the reservoir system for downstream beneficial use,” according to the lawsuit Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said in a news release filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court’s Western District of Missouri.
The lawsuit’s four counts essentially allege officials with the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the North Dakota Garrison Diversion Conservancy District failed to adequately analyze the anticipated impacts of proposed projects to pipe water from the Missouri River — at a rate of 20 cubic feet per second to provide “a reliable water supply sufficient to enable development of industrial growth and development in Central North Dakota,” and at a further 145 cfs to “provide supplemental water to central and eastern North Dakota during times of water scarcity so as to protect public health, ensure ongoing economic vitality, and provide for environmental benefits in the river systems.”
The former quote pertaining to the 20 cfs of flow proposed through a 6-mile pipeline of the Central North Dakota Water Supply Project is from the Bureau of Reclamation’s environmental assessment of the project, also known as the Central ND project.
The latter quote pertaining to the 145 cfs of flow is from the Red River Valley Water Supply Project, a larger project the Central ND project’s pipeline would deliver its water to, for a total flow rate of 165 cfs.
According to a news report from the region published last October by the Grand Forks Herald, the Red River Valley project is intended to serve “15 cities and 20 rural water systems in central and eastern North Dakota during prolonged droughts.
“Climate experts say it is merely a matter of when — not if — a prolonged, multi-year drought similar to the one that parched the Great Plains during the 1930s grips the Red River Valley, which has been battling persistent floods in recent years,” the report added.
The report also noted construction of the Red River Valley project’s 165-mile pipeline was set to begin this spring.
The state of Missouri contends authorities wrongly determined the Central ND Project will not have significant effects on the Missouri River, because the environmental assessment of the project did not cumulatively consider its impacts with those of the Red River Valley project.
The Red River Valley project “is an independent project that will be completed solely by the state (of North Dakota), without approvals or involvement of Reclamation,” according to the Bureau of Reclamation’s environmental assessment of the Central ND project.
Missouri wants the court to order the Bureau of Reclamation to fully analyze the impacts of the Red River Valley project to achieve federal environmental law compliance on the Central ND project.
Missouri also wants a more in-depth environmental impact statement conducted and alleged not doing so was not in accordance with federal law.
The state further claimed the Bureau of Reclamation failed to propose alternatives that could still provide the water North Dakota desires, without “the harmful transboundary export of this limited resource.”
Missouri is seeking an injunction to temporarily or permanently prevent construction related to the Central ND project, unless and until an EIS is done that “fully considers the significant impacts of the proposed Central ND Project and adequately takes a hard look at mitigation measures and reasonable alternatives.”
As a comparison to the combined flow rates of the proposed Central ND and Red River Valley projects, the flow rate Wednesday of the Missouri River at Jefferson City was 114,000-125,000 cfs, according to the National Weather Service — making 165 cfs no more than approximately 0.14 percent of the total current flow.
The river at Jefferson City was cresting, according to the NWS forecast, but it was still more than 7 feet below flood stage, which is at 23 feet.
The river’s flow rate was forecast to drop to less than 65,000 cfs by the afternoon of March 3 — which would make 165 cfs no more than about 0.25 percent of that flow rate.
The Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ national office did not immediately respond to requests for comment by the News Tribune.