February 23, 2006

US plans to send Missouri water north worry Canada

By Marcy Nicholson

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - U.S. plans to combat
droughts by diverting Missouri River water north into Canada
are pushing the two countries toward their second clash in a
year over water use.

At issue is a North Dakotan plan to divert water from the
Missouri River into a system that would take it over the border
to Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba, the world's 10th largest
freshwater lake and home to a commercial fishery.

North Dakota says it faces severe drought within 50 years
and needs to tap water from the Missouri, which normally flows
into the Mississippi River and then on to the Gulf of Mexico.

When drought conditions hit, the proposed diversion would
take an estimated 120 cubic feet of water per second out of the
river, which flows at an average of 20,000 cubic feet per

The province of Manitoba, still smarting from losing a
bruising row with North Dakota over draining low-lying Devil's
Lake into a river that feeds into Lake Winnipeg, says the risks
of the plan are just too big.

"Our concern would be that brings a risk of harm to
Manitoba with the potential movement of harmful, invasive
species," Dwight Williamson of Manitoba Water Stewardship told
Reuters in a recent interview.

That's one of the arguments the Manitoba government put
forward last year when it and the Canadian government resisted
the Devil's Lake plan. North Dakota finally got its way after
agreeing to add more rocks and gravel to its drain as filters
to try to prevent the introduction of foreign species.

Gaile Whelan-Enns, spokeswoman for Sierra Club Canada, said
the latest plan is an even greater concern as it would join two
water basins that have been separated for 10,000 years and
could bring foreign species from the Missouri River to Lake
Winnipeg and then to Hudson Bay.

"The Boundary Waters Treaty between Canada and the U.S.
must be upheld," she said.

The treaty, which dates from 1909, says an independent
agency known as the International Joint Commission should
resolve cross-border water disputes.

In 1977, the commission recommended against diverting water
from the Missouri unless the two countries could agree that
risks can be eliminated.

Merri Mooridian, of the Garrison Diversion Conservancy
District in North Dakota, said a treatment plant for the
proposed water supply project would prevent invasive species
from getting into Canadian waters.

"We feel this alternative, with the proper treatment, will
not harm the water," she said.

Canada wants North Dakota to use water sources within the
Red River Basin in Minnesota and North Dakota, but Mooridian
said there will not be enough water available during the
expected drought.

The Garrison Diversion is due to issue its final
environmental impact statement by December, after which the
U.S. interior secretary will make a final ruling. Congressional
approval will be required before construction can begin.

Construction, estimated to cost $500 million to $660
million, would probably not start before 2009 and the system
would be operational by 2012 at the earliest.

($1=$1.15 Canadian)