July 22nd, 2014 Is WAWS Shortchanging Williston On Water? In the past we have told you about the problems being created by a state-funded project ca

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July 22nd, 2014


Is WAWS Shortchanging Williston On Water?


In the past we have told you about the problems being created by a state-funded project called WAWS, and how it has gone beyond its original mission and is competing with private businesses.

This story continues to unfold as the project's impact become more apparent.

As most people know, the oil boom is having severe impacts on the infrastructure in western North Dakota. While the debate over how much the state should be paying for continues - one thing is clear - the state's Wester Area Water Supply project is having a disproportionately negative impact on the water security of Willston.

To illustrate the seriousness of water security in Williston, one only needs to look at the discussion reported in the Williston Herald regarding the possibility of putting a water rationing policy in place at the city level:

During the past few years, the city has experienced an inadequate supply of water for its municipal water system, particularly during the summer months and in periods of inadequate rainfall, according to Sec. 22-60 of Williston codes. Emergencies have existed because of the lack of an adequate water supply.

The Missouri River, the reservoir supplying water to the city, at times becomes dangerously low and it occasionally becomes necessary to restrict the use of water or prohibit its use for certain purposes.

Although the city doesn’t foresee a water emergency or shortage this year, conserving resources would be a benefit.

David Tuan, director of the Public Works Department, had proposed a revamping of an existing water emergency ordinance to include an even and odd day watering schedule that would be in effect at all times. The amendment would not be enforced but put into city code for residents to follow on a voluntarily basis.

This plan was later set aside and not approved, for now.

But it raises and interesting question about just why Williston has had to increase the capacity of their water treatment plant, and more importantly, whether the forces driving that demand are paying their fair share to make sure the City of Williston does not have to pass the buck to city residents for demand that is not made by the city's residents.

Many will blame water quality in t the Missouri River, but an easier explanation exists - a state-funded project is causing a huge demand increase on Williston's water infrastructure.

Because WAWS is a consortium of existing governmental entities, it has found a way to fast-track for itself the ability to acquire water rights by simply purchasing water from those existing governmental entities.

Williston Water usage

Let's first look at the numbers, as provided by the State Water Commission:

(an acre foot is equal to 325,851 gallons)

In 2013, industrial sales via WAWS equated to more water usage than municipal demanded from 1976 to 2012. Yes, municipal demand has gone up from 2173.6 to 4100.3 from 2010 to 2013, but that would not be a problem if Industrial demand via WAWS had not gone from a trivial 372.3 to 3600!

(By the way, 3600 Acre Feet is over 1.1 billion gallons of water!)

As this data shows, it is pretty much an open and shut case as to what is putting a strain on Williston's water infrastructure.

The question is: does WAWS compensate Williston at an adequate level to justify this increases demand and prevent any increased costs for local residents?

WAWS has an established reimbursement rate structure as well as a retail rate structure. The retail rate that WAWS sells water to the oil industry is $20.00 per 1,000 gallons (this happens to be approved by the State industrial Commission). The reimbursement rate that WAWS pays its water suppliers varies as the table below shows:

WAWS Reimbursement Rates

WAWS buys municipal water that has been treated by the Williston Water Treatment plant for $3.65 per 1,000 gallons, this comes out to about 16 cents per 40 gallon barrel. WAW then turns around and sells the water to the oil industry for $20.00 per 1,000 gallons, roughly 86 cent per barrel.

This would not be so bad if Williston had an excess capacity to supply the water, but the opposite is true. In the past several months, stories have appeared in the Williston Herald about the increasing demand for water, the strain it places on the city’s infrastructure, and even the potential for rationing.

It will be up to local government officials, and WAWS to prove that the citizens of Williston are not being short changed. If they are being shortchanged, it is because the state is subsidizing a project to compete with private industry, while ignoring the costs it is placing on local residents.

The numbers certainly point in that direction.

If this is the case, it means that the state is subsidizing the oil industry by propping up WAWS, and that local Williston residents are paying more in special assessments, property taxes, and utility bills - all so that WAWS can compete with private North Dakota companies and sell water to the oil industry.

That this is a possibility, should be enough for anyone concerned to take a closer look.


-Dustin Gawrylow, Managing Director

North Dakota Watchdog Network

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