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WDAY: The News Leader

Published February 12, 2012, 07:22 PM

Living with Water: The Red River, a major drinking water supply

Fargo, ND (WDAY TV) -- We continue our Living With Water special, a Forum Communications project. While it seems far too often we have had too much water, this winter is showing it can turn dry quickly.

Fargo, ND (WDAY TV) -- We continue our Living With Water special, a Forum Communications project. While it seems far too often we have had too much water, this winter is showing it can turn dry quickly.

This is the Red River in the summer of 1988, reduced to a mere trickle during the hottest summer on record. This low water came just 2 years after the river had been above flood stage in the early fall of 1986. The Red River is the major drinking water supply for all the cities along it except Winnipeg.

During the drought of the 1980's the population of Fargo was about 65,000. Since that time the city has seen incredible growth, it's now up about 105,000. That means the demand on the water supply is even greater.

And the drought of the 80's was just a short term one.

Bruce Furness (Fargo Mayor 1994-2006): "If we had a drought like we had in the 30's for 7,8,9,10 years, we would just be in a big hurt."

At times in the 1930's the Red was nothing more than a mud puddle. It is the driest decade on record in Fargo. Here a motorcycle sits on the old Fargo midtown dam with no water going over it. The dry conditions brought action.

Furness: "When you look at where the water is in North Dakota it's in the Missouri River. And so the logical place to get water is from the Missouri."

60 years ago the Garrison Dam brought the promise of water to eastern North Dakota by moving water through the McClusky canal. But the final step was never finished.

Furness: "We would build a water treatment plant somewhere in that area. Treat the water, put it in a pipe that would bring it over to the Sheyenne River, north of Valley City, put it back in the Sheyenne and bring it over towards eastern North Dakota."

Former Mayor Furness is on the Lake Agassiz Water Authority and says the plan is all in place but the federal government has not signed off on it.

Lance Yohe: "It's another billion dollar project to get that done and so how many billion dollar projects is the federal government going to do in our area?"

Lance Yohe is director of the Red River Basin Commission that was set up to deal with water issues across state and international borders. He says no fewer than 23 federal agencies alone are involved with water in the basin.

Yohe: "We get into a long term drought like the 30's, I believe we're going to have series problems, legally and I believe we are going to have serious problems internationally as we move forward with less and less water with more and more demand for that water."

So while the co-operation on fighting floods together has received much praise, Should we return to scenes like this questions remain on whether that will be the case.

In a serious drought, Fargo has about a one year back up supply in Lake Ashtabula.

Next Sunday, our newspapers and broadcast will look at water quality.

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