Tribal project gains funds under new law

SWC approves cost-sharing with MHA Nation

BISMARCK – A first for North Dakota and its tribal nations occurred Thursday with the State Water Commission’s approval of $1.35 million in cost sharing for preconstruction efforts related to the Fort Berthold water treatment plant, intake and raw water line project.

The 2023 Legislature authorized the SWC to enter cost-sharing agreements with tribal governments in North Dakota, opening a funding avenue for infrastructure projects that previously didn’t exist for tribes. North Dakota Century Code has allowed the SWC to enter agreements with state political subdivisions, the federal government, other state political subdivisions and Canadian provinces but not tribes.

MHA Nation became the first tribe to benefit from the law change. The $1.35 million will provide 75% of the cost of preliminary engineering for a new water treatment plant to replace an aging facility that is strained by the growth in the Four Bears segment it serves on Fort Berthold Reservation. The 75% cost share matches the funding level available to rural water systems.

Tribal Council member Robert White, who represents the Four Bears Segment, said the cost-sharing opportunity is one of the most significant ventures the tribe and state have entered. It acknowledges that tribal members are North Dakotans, too, he said.

“It’s the first step for everybody, including our enrolled members, to realize that,” he said. “We are part of North Dakota.”

Andrea Travnicek, director of the state Department of Water Resources, said the state has assisted tribes when they have been a part of projects through a rural water system or city, but it has not previously been able to assist tribes directly.

“They have water needs as well, and being able to have that cost share partnership officially within Century Code, it’s just great to be able to show that collaborative front moving forward,” she said.

Travnicek said the state is in the process of reviewing and prioritizing potential projects in its water development plan to be presented to the governor for the 2025-27 biennium. Tribal projects are eligible to be included on that project list.

Further funding to advance the Fort Berthold water treatment plant could be reviewed in the development of the water plan. The intent is to bid the project by August 2025. Estimated future cost is $30 million.

The existing plant, estimated to be about 40 years old, is located on the southwest side of the Missouri River, behind the casino and event center at New Town. It has undergone several upgrades, the latest in the 2010s. A new plant is being designed to treat about 1.5 million gallons of water a day, according to engineers.

A larger plant is needed to accommodate residential and commercial growth that has occurred over the years as well as growth projected for the future.

“We’ve increased our housing capacity over the past 30 years by 100 percent,” White said. “We’re going to be building another 50 homes within the next two years.”

During the summers, just on the tribe’s peninsula property, an additional 70 campers contribute to the demand for water and lagoon services, he added. Another 30 campers are tied into just the water infrastructure.

The Four Bears segment has about 1,000 residents, and that number doubles when workforce numbers are added to the total, White said. Tourism adds even more people.

“We almost triple that, especially on an event night when we have concerts and casino events. We get anywhere from 1,500 to 2,500 people coming in, and it might be a short impact but it’s a fast impact,” White said.

He also noted a New Town convenience store averages about 2,500 customers a day, which includes workers, tourists and others traveling through the area and impacting water services.

A tribal greenhouse initiative promoted by Tribal Chairman Mark Fox would further add to water needs, particularly since an irrigation system is likely to be part of the project, White said.

Cost-sharing assistance from the state eases the tribe’s burden in ensuring adequate infrastructure that benefits not only its people but the entire state, White said. It frees up those local dollars, he said, for other needed programs, such as providing addiction treatment services and supporting youth programs.

SWC releases funds for flood protection

BISMARCK – The North Dakota State Water Commission on Thursday approved $107 million in cost-share requests for 26 projects, including $76.1 million to the Souris River Joint Water Resource District for the Mouse River Enhanced Flood Protection Project.

The $76.1 million was identified by the 2023 Legislature for acquisition, engineering and construction costs.

“It is welcome news as we are ready to get MI-5 completed, get rolling on MI-6 and 7,” SRJB Chairman David Ashley said of construction from downtown Minot to the east, including through Roosevelt Park and Zoo. The board also looks to begin engineering on the next project phase as well as on rural aspects and to review a preliminary engineering report for possible improvements, Ashley said.

“Advancement of the Mouse River Enhanced Flood Protection Project is a high priority for DWR and the SWC, and we’re excited to see their incredible progress toward flood resiliency in that region of our state,” said Andrea Travnicek, director of the Department of Water Resources (DWR).


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