Stenehjem looks to dismiss NAWS suits

By Keith Loria | Aug 18, 2009


BISMARCK, N.D. (Legal Newsline) - North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem filed a motion in federal court on Tuesday looking to dismiss lawsuits filed by the Province of Manitoba and the State of Missouri to stop the Northwest Area Water Supply Project.

NAWS is a collaborative project between North Dakota and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation that will that will pipe water from Lake Sakakawea to Minot and a number of cities and rural areas north of Minot, serving nearly 80,000 residents. The Province of Manitoba sued in 2002 to stop the project and the State of Missouri filed suit earlier this year.

"Manitoba is concerned about invasive species," Stenehjem said. "About half of the pipeline from Lake Sakakawea to Minot is in the Hudson Bay Basin and Manitoba is worried that any leaks in that segment could result in transferring non-native biota to the Hudson Bay Basin."

The Republican attorney general added that once Manitoba filed its suit, he immediately filed a motion with the court asking that North Dakota be allowed to intervene and participate as a full party. The Court granted the motion.

"After that ruling Manitoba tried to get construction completely shut down but we persuaded the Court not to do that," Stenehjem said. "Construction on NAWS has continued throughout the litigation. After the judge's initial ruling we secured rulings in 2006 and 2008 that allowed construction to proceed."

Last January, the bureau, in response to the Court's request for additional environmental analysis, completed a full Environmental Impact Statement on the project and added new safeguards, such as ultraviolet disinfection along with chloramine to treat Lake Sakakawea water before it crosses the continental divide.

According to the EIS, this added level of treatment and other protective features will reduce any risk that the project might pose to Manitoba's environment.

"Manitoba disagrees and is now challenging the EIS," Stenehjem said. "But I'm confident that this additional treatment level for the water will put to rest whatever misgivings the judge may have with the project."

Meanwhile, the State of Missouri's claim is that the project will remove water from the system, which will result in less water flowing down to that state.

"The amount of water that NAWS will remove from Lake Sakakawea is so small that it would be impossible to measure it at Lake Sakakawea or at any point below the lake," Stehehjem said. "The project won't have any effect at all on our sister state down river."

Stenehjem expects a ruling from the Court by late this year or early next year.

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