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Burgum: Little Missouri River water can't be used for industrial uses in some areas

DICKINSON, N.D.—Since 1990 more than 600 temporary use permits have been issued for non-agricultural uses of Little Missouri River water, but the recent findings of a 1975 bill have shed light on the issuing of permits around the river basin.

House Bill 1020 was signed into law by North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum last week with a section discussing the management of the Little Missouri River.

In a letter sent to about 130 constituents who had raised concern about the issue with the governor's office, Burgum explained why he signed the bill into law on April 27.

"As governor, a North Dakota resident and a property owner on the Little Missouri River, protecting our environment and being responsible stewards of our natural resources is a priority for me personally and for our administration," he wrote.

Burgum said that recently—within the past month—he learned of the Little Missouri State Scenic River Act, which was signed into law in 1975 to preserve the river.

He said that a State Water Commission hydrologist had recently uncovered the 1975 law that resulted in "a decades-long lapse in awareness and in practice."

Jon Patch, water appropriations division director at the State Water Commission, said that his division requested the addition of the Little Missouri River permits into HB 1020.

"We wanted to make sure we weren't violating the law and ask that an amendment put in on HB 1020," he said. "It happened very late in the session. The request was that we would be able to continue to issue temporary permits within the basin."

Burgum said in response to the findings of the 1975 law and SWC's noncompliance with the law, he has been assured that no conditional water permits have ever been or will be issued establishing industrial water rights from surface water in the Little Missouri River Basin.

The SWC will suspend any issuance of any temporary non-agricultural use permits in the Little Missouri Basin upstream from Long X Bridge, at the east end of the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Patch said that the majority of area where temporary permits—which are issued anywhere between three to 12 months—were issued for water depots used for fracking by oil companies was done downstream in the 40-mile stretch between where Highway 85 crosses the Little Missouri River and toward Lake Sakakawea.

"That's where most of the oil industry activity has been," he said. "They've been using local supplies that then pipe the water to nearby wells that are ready to be fracked. They don't have to then truck water in, if they are using this water supply, which is a benefit to the public."

Burgum said he will be reinstating the Little Missouri River Commission, which will consist of the director of the North Dakota Parks and Recreation department, state health officer, chief engineer of the State Water Commission, and one member from each of the following counties who are selected by their county commission: McKenzie, Billings, Slope, Golden Valley, Dunn, and Bowman. They must be resident landowners who live adjacent to the Little Missouri River.

The commission will act in an advisory role to the SWC, Patch said.

In the letter, Burgum states that many letters to his office expressed concerns about the water depletion in the river due to industrial permits.

Patch said that the SWC continuously monitors water levels during the permitting process.

"The use of the waters (for temporary permits) in the basin have been in the area where it's not necessarily the areas that need to be very protected for the scenic and (recreational) nature. It's the further downstream that isn't being used for that purpose," he said.