Legislation to Amend the Dakota Water Resources Act

Special to Devils Lake Journal

North Dakota- Legislation has been introduced to  amend the Dakota Water Resources Act (DWRA) to allow more North Dakota irrigators to obtain project use power (PUP) through the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) as the bill originally intended. Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) joined as an original cosponsor, and Representative Kelly Armstrong (R-ND) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

“As North Dakota experiences a drought, the federal bureaucracy is preventing our irrigators from getting the rates they need to affordably and effectively operate which Congress intended for them to receive,” said Senator Kevin Cramer. “Our legislation would amend the Dakota Water Resources Act to clarify our irrigators will receive these rates, helping our farmers maximize their crop potential and giving the state an overdue benefit we were promised in exchange for the federal government flooding prime North Dakota farmland.”

“Congress passed the Dakota Water Resources Act in order to preserve North Dakota’s water rights and ensure access to affordable irrigation as compensation for lost farmland permanently flooded by federal water projects,” said Senator Hoeven. “Agriculture is a cornerstone of our economy, and in the midst of a drought, our irrigators need a reliable and affordable water source. Our legislation will help ensure the Bureau of Reclamation complies with Congress’ intent and works with our agriculture producers to ensure our water resources meet the needs of our communities and economy.”

“Access to water at an affordable rate is critical for North Dakota agriculture,” said Representative Armstrong. “The Dakota Water Resources Act was passed with the purpose of protecting North Dakota’s water rights, but many farmers are unable to obtain water resources at the rates they were promised. Our legislation will bring farmers the clarity they desperately need as they feed and fuel the world.”

BOR oversees the implementation of the DWRA, a bill passed by Congress in 2000 to help meet the water needs of North Dakota. However, BOR’s interpretation of the bill has prevented irrigators in the state from being able to receive PUP rates, despite the agency admitting the existing irrigation areas are economically and financially feasible. The areas in question as outlined in the DWRA are 28,000 acres in the Missouri River Basin exclusive of the James River Basin, such as the Horsehead Flats area. Allowing PUP rates would make irrigation more affordable and provide a direct benefit to North Dakota’s agricultural economy which lost hundreds of thousands of acres to create the Garrison and Oahe reservoirs managed by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Senators Cramer and Hoeven introduced identical legislation last Congress. The bill is supported by the North Dakota Irrigation Association and the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives (NDAREC), which passed a resolution in support of this clarification in 2019.

“With virtually the whole state in a severe drought, irrigation is critical for many agriculture producers. The North Dakota Irrigation Association supports this legislative effort to fulfill the federal government’s promise to provide affordable irrigation to make up for the state’s loss of thousands of acres of farmland due to construction of Missouri River reservoirs,” said Loren DeWitz, President of the North Dakota Irrigation Association. “The extreme dry conditions have prompted a renewed interest in irrigation options, this bill is very timely.”

“We are thankful for the steadfast efforts of Senator Cramer and our North Dakota congressional delegation on the Horsehead Irrigation District project, as laid out in the Dakota Water Resources Act,” said Josh Kramer, Executive Vice President and General Manager of NDAREC. “By allowing for additional irrigation, farmland will become even more productive, which benefits local cooperative members and local communities.”

K. William Boyer is the Managing Editor of the Devils Lake News Journal. He can be reached at kboyer@gannett.com, or by phone at (701) 662-2127.  

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