New facility could ease water sales limits to producers

By Patrick C. Miller | September 03, 2014

The North Dakota Industrial Commission last week approved plans for a water storage facility to help the Western Area Water Supply Authority (WAWSA) avoid restrictions or temporary halts of water sales to Bakken producers.

The commission approved engineering and bids for a 2 million gallon water storage facility in McKenzie County near WAWSA’s Indian Hills reservoir south of the Missouri River. The expected completion date is June 2015 if the NDIC approves the bids.

“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 Western Area Water Supply Project was created by the North Dakota Legislature in 2011 primarily to provide Missouri River water for municipal and rural needs in Burke, Divide, McKenzie, Mountrail and Williams counties. Communities served include Williston, Watford City, Ray, Tioga, Stanley, Wildrose, Crosby, Fortuna, Noonan and Columbus.

The project—expected to cost approximately $400 million to complete—is mostly funded by loans from the Bank of North Dakota, which are being repaid through sales of water to the oil and gas industry in the Bakken. Wirtz said WAWSA receives about $2.5 million a month in revenue from industrial water sales. The new facility will increase the system’s storage capacity from 22 million gallons to 24 million gallons.

“The growth that we’ve experienced in McKenzie County is a lot larger than we ever anticipated, not only on the domestic side, but also on the industrial,” Wirtz said. “Because of the unprecedented growth that we’re experiencing—especially in the Watford City area—a lot of that storage is taken up.”

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.”

Water is treated at the Williston Regional Water Treatment Plant and then transported to towns and rural areas in the project's service area.  Based on population estimates, the project expects to provide drinking water to an estimated 160,000 people by 2035.