Bringing consistency to ND’s water code

Published: Jul. 21, 2021 at 5:08 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - There’s no end in sight for North Dakota’s water problems. However, water problems are nothing new. There are commissions and agencies responsible for overseeing water resources at every level of government, but some of them are calling for the state to be the final judge on water disputes.

The phrase goes “whiskey is for drinking, and water is for fighting,” and that fight has been on for decades.

Decades of changes to water laws have created redundancies and confusion, especially with regard to new projects like drains and culverts.

Almost the entire state is experiencing some form of drought. But it’s the water that comes with rain that’s causing problems for producers.

To protect farmland from drowning, drains are installed to move water away.

And many times, it goes to their neighbor’s land.

“Water issues... they create huge fights with friends and neighbors. Whether it’s a county or personal friends or someone you’ve grown up with and farm buyer or works right next to you, it erodes friendships and relationships that have been good for a long time,” said Griggs County State’s Attorney Jayme Tenneson.

Drainage comes with costs, and sometimes neighbors cover part of the bill if they benefit from it too.

But different parts of the state have different needs, and thus different costs.

Those variables make it difficult to create a standard on who pays for what.

“That shoe doesn’t fit all feet and I think we need to keep that in mind. So what may work for a water board in eastern North Dakota may not work for a water board in western North Dakota,” Rep. Jim Schmidt, R-Huff, said.

On top of that, water projects fall under two different parts of the Century Code, and they have different rules.

This can make deal-making even more confusing.

Over the next year, a select group of lawmakers will comb through the Century Code to find any redundancies or contradictions.

Other options include bringing in third parties to work out the costs of a new culvert and taking it out of the hands of regional water boards.

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