- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 8, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is calling for more stringent water treatment in its final environmental study for the Northwest Area Water Supply project.

The report released Tuesday is another step in the long-delayed project to bring Missouri River water to residents of northwestern North Dakota. NAWS was first authorized by Congress nearly three decades ago, in 1986.

Once the study’s 30-day public comment period is over, the secretary of the Interior will issue a final decision and submit it to a federal judge overseeing a lawsuit filed by Missouri over potential water depletion of the river and the Canadian province of Manitoba over the potential transfer of harmful organisms to its waters. Those lawsuits, which a judge joined together, have held up the project for years.

The final environmental study calls for the addition of filtration to previously recommended river water treatment methods of chlorination and ultraviolet disinfection. It would increase the project cost from $207 million to $244 million. The federal government would pay most of it but Congress would have to agree to appropriate the money.

The addition of filtration is a response to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concerns about meeting drinking water standards, said Alicia Waters, NAWS team leader for the Bureau of Reclamation.

“We don’t know whether it would be a concern or not, but in order to avoid any kind of drinking water concerns, we’re recommending a filtration process,” she said.

As for Missouri’s concerns, a study has already concluded that NAWS would use less than 1 percent of the storage capacity in the Missouri River basin, Waters said. The final environmental report also says “potential effects of climate change on the Missouri river would more than offset project water withdrawals.”

A spokesman for Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship said the agency will be reviewing the report and had no immediate comment. Officials with Missouri did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

NAWS is projected to serve 82,000 people by 2060 if it is built. Hundreds of miles of pipeline already have been constructed since 2002 under court approval, and the system is supplying some communities with water - but it is treated groundwater from Minot’s water plant and not Missouri River water. River water must wait until the treatment dispute is cleared up.

U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., issued a statement urging a quick final decision from the federal government.

“The people of North Dakota have every right to beneficially use Missouri River water,” he said.

The 30-day public comment period likely will begin Friday, when a notice is expected to be printed in the Federal Register, Waters said.

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Follow Blake Nicholson on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/NicholsonBlake

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