March 17th, 2015 Industrial Commission Opposes WAWS Reform Bills Since last month's update on the WAWS Reform effort, the Senate overwhelmingly appr

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March 17th, 2015


Industrial Commission Opposes WAWS Reform Bills


Since last month's update on the WAWS Reform effort, the Senate overwhelmingly approved both bills that were introduced to start the process of reining in the Western Area Water Supply Authority.

Senate Bill 2336 creates and requires WAWS to use a notification process to simply let private sector industrial water sellers know when and where WAWS intends to compete with the private sector. It gives private water sellers 7-days to review and respond, and requires the state water commission to make a ruling based on the input from private water sellers and WAWS’ basis for the project.

SB 2336 passed by a vote of 35-11.

Senate Bill 2361 was originally designed to restrict WAWS to using eminent domain only to provide water to residents (on farms and in towns) for domestic every-day use such as drinking and cleaning. It would have prevented WAWS from using eminent domain for the purposes of providing fracking water to the oil companies.

SB 2361 passed by a vote of 40-6.

These reforms are nowhere near what is needed to rein WAWS in – they represent a small step – but even though they are not huge reforms, WAWS and its member organizations are throwing all their lobbying power against them.

Last week, the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee heard testimony on both SB 2336 and SB 2361.

While most of the testimony on both sides was as expected, one development that did raise a few eyebrows was the quick declaration by Karlene Fine in her role as Executive Director of the North Dakota Industrial Commission, that the Commission opposes both SB 2336 and SB 2361. Since the commission is comprised of the Governor, Attorney General, and Agriculture Commissioner it means that at least two of the three members are fine with WAWS operating with little to no protection provided to landowners or private sector competition.

Last November in our WAWS update, we asked the question: "Is WAWS Pulling A Fast One On The Industrial Commission?"

At that time we pointed out that the management of WAWS was telling the Industrial Commission one thing, and the oil industry trade magazine media another thing when it came to increased need for water storage:

According to August 26th, 2014 Bismarck Tribune's Bakken Breakout section, the storage was sold to the industrial commission as a means of stabilizing the supply for public (non-industrial):

"(Jaret) Wirtz (executive diretor of WAWS) said providing water for domestic use is the priority of the WAWS system. Excess water is being sold at water depots to the oil and gas industry to pay off the cost of the project."

But that is a slightly different message that is being sent to the oil industry itself.

According to a September 3rd, 2014 story in The Bakken Magazine, the message is that this storage is primarily for the purpose of stabilizing the availability of water for the oil industry.

“This will help us to satisfy our customers’ needs and keep our industrial customers happy with the water they’re receiving in the volumes they’re requesting,” said Jaret Wirtz, WAWSA executive director.


The lack of storage capacity on the south side of WAWSA’s system has caused some shortages for industrial users in McKenzie County.

“The limited amount of storage has affected numerous slowdowns in sales,” Wirtz explained. “The additional storage will limit the number of slowdowns and shutoffs we could potentially incur.”

Apparently, the State Industrial Commission does not really care that WAWS's officials are regularly speaking out of both sides of their mouths. Nor does it seem to care that this difference in messages could be interpreted as deception.

Perhaps the State House which voted 61-27 on House Bill 1187 to significantly reduce the Industrial Commission's rule-making powers will take issue with the Industrial Commission trying to interfere with the legislature's on-going work.

Click here to urge your legislators to create oversight and transparency with regard to WAWS.


-Dustin Gawrylow, Managing Director

North Dakota Watchdog Network

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