BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Excess water that caused record flooding and misery in North Dakota last year has helped slake growing water demands from the state's booming oil patch.
But state officials don't expect the surplus to last long and want drillers and other users to be able to tap water immediately — and at no cost — from North Dakota's Lake Sakakawea, the largest of the six reservoirs on the Missouri River.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages dams and reservoirs along the 2,341-mile river, wants to charge water users for surplus water drawn from the big lake, a proposal that is being challenged by state officials.
After rounds of public comments, a decision by the corps has languished for more than a year.
Corps spokesman Larry Janis said Jo-Ellen Darcy, the assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, is still reviewing the comments.
"A lot of people provided comments," Janis said. "She wants to make sure she has a chance to consider those ... It's not a decision she'll make quickly."
Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Tex Hall, chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes, have promised a legal fight if the corps indeed decides to charge users for surplus lake-drawn water.
Fresh water is needed by the oil industry in North Dakota for hydraulic fracturing, a process that uses pressurized fluid and sand to break open oil-bearing rock 2 miles underground.
Bob Shaver, the state Water Commission's water appropriation director, said enough water is available now to the oil industry in western North Dakota, thanks to excessive moisture in 2011.