Water Worries

By Louis Hoglund Ordinarily, Otter Tail County folks dont care to play second fiddle. But being second in line as an H2O source for the massive Red River Water Supply Project is a dubious honor. I have to tell you folks, (Otter Tai...

By Louis Hoglund

Ordinarily, Otter Tail County folks dont care to play second fiddle. But being second in line as an H2O source for the massive Red River Water Supply Project is a dubious honor.

I have to tell you folks, (Otter Tail-Pelican alternative) is the number two preferred option, said North Dakota hydrologist Allen Schlag, somewhat hesitantly, to a meeting room of more than 125 people at The Cactus in Perham.

Eight drought contingency plans were developed for the Red River Valley Water Supply Project. As it stands now, Number 2 on the list is a $500 to $600 million plan to draw water from the Otter Tail-Pelican aquifers if were besieged with a drought of the 1930s magnitude. The water would supplement municipalities and industry primarily in Fargo-Moorhead.


East Otter Tail would prefer to be seventh or eighth-best on the list. North Dakotas preferred alternative is the $500 to $660 million alternative to build a pipeline from the McClusky Canal to the Sheyenne River, which flows to the valley. A second pipeline would be constructed to pump water from Fargo to Wahpeton-Breckenridge.

The audience response was predictable--but polite. The discussion was civil and orderly, unlike some of the informational meetings which have been held over the past two months.

Still, the locals were visibly restless about the proposal: North Dakotans have been coming over to take Minnesota bullheads for years....Now they want the water too?!?

The crowd was reminded that the Red River Valley is economically crucial to not only North Dakota, but nearly all of western Minnesota.

If the Red and Sheyenne Rivers ran almost dry like they did in the Depression, it would be an economic holocaust--$2.4 billion a year. And that doesnt include the crop losses, said David Johnson, District Engineer of the Garrison Diversion Conservancy District.

Another interesting fact: At Fargo-Moorheads present level of population and industry, the water demand in the F-M area is equivalent to the entire flow of the Red River in 1934.

Though it may be difficult to view water in the same category as timber, coal or oil, water is a natural resource and natural resources are imported and exported everywhere, said Johnson.

Under the Otter Tail-Pelican scenario, 129 wells would be drilled and scattered around a watershed of nearly 700 square miles area. An underground pipeline, about 5-6 feet around, would be constructed to channel water to the FM area, from three immense storage tanks with a capacity of more than 200,000 gallons, probably similar to the Perham water tower.


An advantage to this plan is that they are both vast aquifers--Otter Tail holds 1.38 million acre feet of water; Pelican 890,000 acre feet of water.

In a drought situation, up to 6,150 acre-feet a year would be pumped from the Pelican aquifer; and 33,480 acre-feet from the Otter Tail aquifer.

More importantly, both have a reliable recharge rate--a measurement of how quickly the aquifer is replenished.

Several of North Dakotas aquifers have virtually no natural recharge, due in large part to soil conditions. West Fargo, for example, is drawing its water exclusively from a non-rechargeable aquifer. One hundred feet of groundwater has been removed. With no water coming into the aquifer, West Fargos future water source is unclear.

Discussion was lively, and varied. A February public hearing was not well-attended in Perham, which prompted city officials to request a second, informational meeting. This time, with increased publicity about the controversial project, people flocked to the meeting.

Perhaps most notable was the solid representation from the farming-ag sector in the area; there were few at the initial hearing.

Farmers raised many concerns. Among them the impact on crop irrigation

There was a large dose of Dakota-bashing at the meeting--most of it harmless. But, When all was said and done, it was the Minnesota DNR representative, Larry Kramka, who perhaps offered the most balanced perspective.


When you look at these options, you really have to take them with a grain of salt...None of these are exactly what will happen in the end. said Kramka, the regional hydrology supervisor, based in Bemidji.

In Minnesota alone, there will be extensive review and oversight by agencies ranging from the DNR to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The state of Minnesota has laws that govern water...and this project will be subject to that, said Kramka. Youll find out alot more before this project is ever approved.

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