Helping Oil-Impacted Cities Grow Responsibly

Regional planning moves forward with water needs topping the list.
By Heather Syverson | April 22, 2013

Over the past five years, western North Dakota has both benefited from and suffered because of the oil activity associated with the Bakken shale formation. On one hand, there’s the thriving economy and nearly nonexistent unemployment. On the other hand, cities’ limited and aging infrastructures are being taxed because of the sudden influx of people who want to live and work in the Bakken. The staff of Advanced Engineering and Environmental Services Inc. (AE2S), a regional engineering consulting firm, is helping several towns in western North Dakota manage the sudden growth. “Many of the cities in the Bakken area of North Dakota have an immediate need for planning, updating and expanding their water and wastewater systems, and financing the growth of their cities,” AE2S CEO Steve Burian says.

Historically, one of the major problems in western North Dakota has been an inadequate and poor-quality water supply and the booming population has made the situation even more critical. The Western Area Water Supply Project was born out of this need. The $350 million WAWSP will serve all, or parts of, Burke, Divide, McKenzie, Mountrail and Williams counties by treating Missouri River water at the Williston Regional Water Treatment Plant, before transporting it through hundreds of miles of pipe to the towns and rural areas in the five-county area that desperately need water. In 2011, N.D. Gov. Jack Dalrymple recognized the immediate need for the WAWSP, and signed House Bill 1206 to authorize $110 million dollars in state loans to get the project started. The loans will be repaid primarily through the sale of water from extra capacity in the system at water-fill depots and pipeline laterals to oil companies for the hydraulic fracturing process.

The WAWSP is currently on track to be the fastest regional water system to be built in North Dakota history. AE2S Project Manager Cory Chorne says, “Without this project, towns like Watford City and Crosby would be suffering from water shortages and poor quality drinking water well into the future. The WAWSP is truly a historic water project for the state.” By midyear, nine cities will receive service from the WAWSP. Several more towns will come online over the next couple of years as the system expands to more rural areas.

AE2S is planning and designing the project for the Western Area Water Supply Authority, and is also contracted to design upgrades for the Williston Regional Water Treatment Plant to increase its capacity. The population of the project’s service area is now projected to reach 100,000 residents by the year 2032, according to a North Dakota State University housing study covering western North Dakota. This is more than double the original population projection of 48,000 that was in place when project planning began two years ago. As population projections increase, the project’s designers have adjusted the WAWSP to accommodate the growth.

Coordinating 19 Counties

Population projections play a major role in another project that AE2S is working on in western North Dakota. The Vision West ND project is a local and regional planning effort to address short- and long-term needs to meet growth challenges and establish diversified economies in the 19 western North Dakota counties affected by oil and gas production: Adams, Billings, Bottineau, Bowman, Burke, Divide, Dunn, Golden Valley, Hettinger, McHenry, McKenzie, McLean, Mercer, Mountrail, Renville, Slope, Stark, Ward and Williams. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the North Dakota departments of Trust Lands and Commerce are funding the project.

“Basically, Vision West ND is a region-wide effort to assess the current and near-future needs of participating cities, while gathering input from city leaders and citizens at public meetings,” says Andrea Boe, AE2S marketing manager and communications officer for Vision West ND. “We’ve had excellent participation from the 19 associated counties. Over 1,000 people have participated in leadership and town hall meetings to provide input and guidance in developing their community economic strategic plans. This project will improve the entire region by coordinating the efforts of the individual communities on a larger scale.”

As part of the project, AE2S completed municipal infrastructure assessments to create an inventory of water, wastewater, storm water and street infrastructure. The assessments help identify cities’ immediate and future needs, prioritize the necessary improvement projects and project the associated costs. By the end of this year, Vision West ND will provide a complete regional plan incorporating the strategies from the local participants. Implementation is to begin in 2014.

Planning ahead has been the key to overcoming many of the hurdles brought on by the oil boom in western North Dakota. “AE2S has had offices on the western side of the state for many years, long before many other companies arrived because of the activity in the Bakken,” Burian says. “I’m very pleased that we’ve been able to make a positive impact in North Dakota, and I look forward to finding more ways to help meet infrastructure needs in western North Dakota.”

Author: Heather Syverson
Communications Coordinator
Advanced Engineering and Environmental Services Inc. (AE2S)


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