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Straight from the tap

Posted 10/18/16 (Tue)

Straight from the tap

By Sydney Glasoe Caraballo
Murky, cold bathwater waited if you didn’t get first dibs on the once-a-week bath before siblings. The same went for washing dirty clothes, and the toilet was outdoors.
Art and Doreen Schilke, who live on a farmstead south of Crosby, remember when clean water was a rare commodity on family farms. While they’ve had running water for years, this is the first year they’ve used water from the tap to make coffee.
The Schilkes, like many rural families in Divide County, are now served by the Western Area Water Supply Project (WAWSP), which will have the capacity to serve as many as 125,000 people by 2038.
WAWSP celebrates its fifth anniversary this year with approximately 1,200 miles of pipeline installed. The project is managed by the Western Area Water Supply Authority (WAWSA), which has another 650 miles of pipeline planned.
“Every day we are getting more users connected and getting more water infrastructure built,” says Jaret Wirtz, WAWSA’s executive director. 
WAWSP, which is a public-private partnership, delivers water to Columbus, Crosby, Fortuna, Noonan, Ray, Ross, Stanley, Tioga, Watford City, Wildrose and Williston. The partnership also serves rural residents throughout Burke, Divide, McKenzie, Mountrail and Williams Counties. 
The authority takes water from the Missouri River and treats it at the Williston Regional Water Treatment Plant. The Williston plant serves as the primary supplier; the R & T Water Treatment Plant near Ray offers a supplemental supply source.
WAWSA has increased the Williston plant’s capacity to 21 million gallons per day and has built and/or upgraded two water towers, 10 reservoirs and 10 pump stations. The authority plans to construct and upgrade an additional tower, as well as four more pump stations and one more reservoir. 
The Schilkes didn’t hesitate when WAWSA provided the opportunity to link into the water supply. Rural users get modern convenience, quality and superior infrastructure, according to the Schilkes. 
“Down the road when we sell our place,” says Doreen, “it’s a good thing to have quality water available. It’s a good selling point.”
The couple agrees rural residents here are fortunate when considering the drought in California and water restrictions, as well as limited access to quality water in other parts of the world. 
Not so long ago, local access to a convenient and clean water supply was hard to come by, said Art.
“When you look at the old homesteads,” says Art. “Most were built next to a slough to cart the water.”
Art recalls his parents installing eaves troughs on the house to capture rainwater that would be stored in a cistern. Art and his siblings were tasked with cleaning sludge out of the cistern, as well as plucking out the drowned mice.
“We used the same water over and over,” says Art of bath time and doing the laundry. “The water supply was a huge issue.”
The Schilkes, who eventually moved back to the Crosby area and bought a farmstead, have a dependable well at their farm, but they always hauled drinking water from Crosby. The well water contained a lot of iron, and rust was a constant factor.
When the Schilkes seeded the lawn, they were immediately aware of the rust issue. “We put the sprinkler on, and it turned the foundation red in a day,” Art says.    
Water pressure is another advantage of the rural water project. 
“I don’t have to stand in the shower and wait for the pump to pressure up again,” Art says. “Now we can have all three showers going in the house at once.”
Doreen adds that the showers and bathrooms are much easier to clean without contending with rust stains. She admits that while Art now drinks water from the tap, she still prefers drinking bottled water. However, “The new water makes better coffee than what I can get in town,” she says.        
The Schilkes agree the rural water project is one lasting benefit of the oil boom.
WAWSA utilized the oil boom and its water needs by selling the authority’s unused water capacity to the oil industry, which uses it for depots with direct connections to WAWSA transmission mains have helped to fund construction of the vast public drinking water system.
The authority has also secured funding for the current biennium with 32 percent funding through sate government grants and the remaining funding coming from loans from the Bank of North Dakota, the State Water Commission and other state sources.    
WAWSP will cost an estimated $469 million by its completion, and the North Dakota Sate Legislature has obligated $309 million for the current biennium. The authority initially planned to request $60 million from the state for the upcoming 2017-2019 biennium.
“We’ve had to cut back our request due to the shortfall,” says Wirtz of declining oil and gas revenue for the state.
WAWSA’s current request is for $29 million. The legislature’s funding approval will determine how much of the projected 650 miles of additional pipeline will be installed. Two future projects providing water to nearly 50  potential users in Divide County may be impacted. Wirtz says if WAWSA had been granted the $60 million request, those projects would be funded without any issue. Instead, WAWSA will have to wait and see what its funding level will be for the following biennium and prioritize construction accordingly.
“Higher density areas take priority,” says Wirtz. “As well as areas that are ready to go and where there is an emergency with poor quality water. The board makes those decisions.”
For now, Wirtz says the authority is keeping busy with its commitment to proper land restoration where additional pipeline was installed this summer.
Art says he is grateful to all the area landowners and farmers who agreed to water pipelines being installed on their land. 
“The landowners along the line need to be complimented,” says Art, who is also contending with land restoration on his farm acreage.
Despite such inconveniences, the Schilkes believe area residents will benefit from WAWSP for years to come.
“We take it for granted,” Doreen says. “Your mind can rest easy that the water is always going to be there. It’s something you don’t have to worry about.”
Wirtz says WAWSA is committed to keeping its current and future customers happy.
“Our job is to provide good, clean water to everyone that wants it,” says Wirtz. “Until everyone has it who wants water, our job isn’t done.”