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Group of U.S. Attorney General: Army Corps of Engineers can not take our water

Christian Fernsby |
North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem is leading a bipartisan group of Western Attorneys General in protection of water.

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They in a letter urging the Trump administration to instruct the Army Corps of Engineers to comply with state water laws and withdraw its proposed Water Supply Rule that would usurp the authority of the states over their own water.

The coalition of attorneys general includes North Dakota, Idaho, South Dakota, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, New Mexico, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming
In the final weeks of the Obama administration, the Army Corps of Engineers published a proposed Water Supply Rule to clarify its policies governing the use of Corps reservoir projects.

The Corps uses some of the policies to justify its moratorium on allowing water withdrawals from Lake Sakakawea and Lake Oahe, which has been an on-going issue in North Dakota for the last decade.

The Corps contends that once water in the Missouri River flows into the reservoirs the Corps controls that water and can require prospective users to sign a water supply contract and pay the Corps for the water.

This effectively prohibits North Dakotans from accessing 75% of the Missouri River for water supply.

Stenehjem contends this is contrary to state and federal law, which clearly delegates water appropriation responsibilities to the State Engineer.

“The notion that the Corps of Engineers can regulate or charge for the use of water that has always belonged to the citizens of North Dakota is unlawful and completely unacceptable,” said Stenehjem.

In recent weeks, Stenehjem has learned that the proposed rule is now being reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget, which implies the Corps is moving forward in its efforts to finalize the rule.

The letter asks the Trump administration to recognize that the proposed Water Supply Rule exceeds the Corps’ statutory authority, expressly violates Congress’s declarations, and undermines the rights of states to control their own water resources.

“Congress and the courts have repeatedly held that the states are in the best position to manage their own water resources for their citizens,” Stenehjem said.

“We stand ready to engage with the Corps in a collaborative government-to-government discussion on how to address our respective interests, but the first step of that discussion must be withdrawal of this unlawful proposal,” he continued.

The coalition of attorneys general, led by Attorney General Stenehjem, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, and South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, also includes the Attorneys General from Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, New Mexico, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

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