A NEWSLETTER FROM THE STATE ENGINEER & WATER COMMISSION
As part of Team ND, the Water Commission pledges to use scientific and data-driven methods to maintain the highest of standards in our delivery of services to constituents. Well-founded operations and procedures are critical to improving quality of life and strengthening North Dakota’s economy through the responsible management of its water resources.
This statement holds true for our agency, even when faced with the difficulties and challenges presented by COVID-19. The global pandemic created rapidly shifting changes in the workforce and to our everyday way of life. The Water Commission, however, has strived to maintain its commitment to the state and continues to provide innovation, prosperity, and progress.
Our agency has thrived, adjusting to a new normal by leveraging invaluable technology and resources made possible by the tireless efforts of the Water Commission’s in-house IT staff. During this workforce transformation, our entire staff has continued to administer essential services to the citizens of North Dakota and has operated seamlessly with all stakeholders. For this, we would like to express considerable gratitude.
Great dedication and diligence were demonstrated by staff and project sponsors in July during the Commissioner-hosted basin meetings. Keeping public-health a top priority, the meetings were held virtually due to COVID-19 related concerns. The meetings were efficient and successful, allowing for important discussions about ongoing agency efforts, water management, and project development in the state’s eight major drainage basins.
This summer’s virtual meetings focused on Water Commission budget-related updates, 2019-2021 biennium cost-share policy modifications, the 2021 water development planning process, project summaries from sponsors, and general question and answer discussions. It was especially encouraging to witness the high level of attendance and active participation despite the ongoing pandemic.
Funding challenges and uncertainty will remain in the foreseeable future, but we will continue to be adaptable as circumstances evolve. With optimism and perseverance, it is my pleasure to serve North Dakota as Interim State Engineer and Chief Engineer-Secretary. And, I am privileged to announce that I will continue to fulfill this role throughout the 2021 Legislative Session.
Time is often broken down into three categories, the past, the present, and the future. When you correlate that to the year 2020, a Clint Eastwood film comes to mind, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Everyone is trying to navigate these uncertain times and the challenges that the events of this year have brought.
Zoom meetings and Teams are now a norm. I have been feeling proud of my technological ability to participate in these meetings with only a little help from my seven-year-old. Under the circumstances, these tools have been great to allow for a little interaction that we all crave. Business can be conducted almost normally and hopefully productively. I am very thankful for the work the staff of the State Water Commission has done to conduct business. Along with the day-to-day operations, they helped facilitate the basin-hosted meetings that took place this summer. This was a great help to all of us to promote communication between the public and the Commission.
If we look at the past as it relates to the State Water Commission, a few things come to mind. This has been a big year for the State Water Commission. Two new Commissioners were brought on-board, Jay Volk and Steve Schneider. They are two very thoughtful and talented people whose contributions were felt right away. While we welcome them, we also miss Russ McDonald who stepped down to pursue his numerous commitments. I believe Russ made everyone on the Commission better with his insight and ability to look at things differently. We all must strive to keep that creativity when looking at the challenges that face us. March of 2020 also brought the retirement of our State Engineer, Mr. Garland Erbele. I personally would like to thank Garland for all of the patience with the thousands of questions I had for him and for the leadership he showed the entire Commission. When we all were fortunate enough to be appointed commissioners, the mandate was very simple, “help the people of North Dakota.” After working with the other commissioners and staff, I am very happy to call them friends. We are always happy to hear thoughts and concerns from throughout the State to better serve the needs of the people. Any complaints, however, can be directed toward our Vice Chairman, Dick Johnson.
We look fondly at the past in-regards to the revenue the Resources Trust Fund provided to the budget of the State Water Commission. A lot of well laid plans were based on a set of revenue projections that will not be met in the short term. Although this was an unexpected result of the environment we are in right now economically, I feel there are many opportunities to be had. We are starting to get a better picture of expected revenue. This seems odd in a year when just a few months ago, toilet paper was viewed as a valuable currency.
Looking forward to the future there are many things to strive for. Some things will never go back to what we viewed as normal. With the change in revenue projections, prioritization by the State Water Commission, and individual systems and municipalities will become even more important. In reality, all projects should be looked at the same no matter how much money is in the account. This process will insure the best projects are completed for the State of North Dakota. In my conversations with the staff and other commissioners, I have gotten the feeling of a desire to find new and better ways to conduct business. It is my hope that this renewed commitment will lead to better things to come.
And where are we in the present? I had a wise person once tell me that they call it the present because it is a gift. Personally, this spring and summer has been one of the best I have ever had. I work in an industry where we are pros at social distancing. All of the work-related changes that took place nation- wide, did not affect me as much as others. I was able to be with my family a lot more this spring as my wife and I fumbled our way through homeschooling. One minute I was doing crafts with my third-grader and the next, trying to remember algebra and calculus for my high schooler. I also did some Tik Tok dances with my two daughters that I pray will never make it online. My oldest son who is a college freshman was able to come home to take all of his classes online. It was a gift to all be together for one more spring when I did not think that would ever happen again.
Everyone involved with water in the State has a vision of what they feel is important to their own set of circumstances. In reality, the most important project in the state is your own. It is great to advocate and promote projects that are important for you. I look forward to continued work with all the different facets of water in North Dakota. I expect new efficiencies to be a result of some of the challenges that everyone has faced in recent months. We will all get through this and the State Water Commission will be better positioned to serve the needs of the people of North Dakota.
Congratulations to Jon Patch on his retirement. Jon began his employment with the Water Commission as a Summer Technician in the Water Appropriations Division in 1981. His career was sustained by great expertise and dedication as he excelled in multiple positions within the Appropriations Division. Jon served as a Hydrologist, Hydrologist Manager, and ended his career as the Director of Water Appropriations.
While advancing his career, Jon also continued his education and earned his Master’s Degree from North Dakota State University in Environmental Engineering with coursework in Water Law, Climatology, and Engineering. Jon admirably served the people of North Dakota for over 39 years. We would like to wish Jon a well-deserved retirement filled with health and happiness.
Service Member Patriot Award – Karen Goff
Karen Goff, Dam Safety Program Manager at the Water Commission, was recently honored with the Service Member Patriot Award. Kate Kelly, Dam Safety Engineer in the Regulatory Division, nominated Karen for this honor. Karen has exhibited encouragement, respect, and has been consistent in her support of Kate’s role in the National Guard.
Kate noted that management and staff at the Water Commission have all displayed support and provided positive feedback in her role with the National Guard and her work within the agency.
The Patriot Award, presented by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, recognizes efforts made to support citizen warriors through a wide-range of measures, including flexible schedules, time off prior to and after deployment, caring for families, and granting leaves of absence if needed.
In June, Hunter Obrigewitch started his employment with the Water Commission in the Regulatory Division as a Water Resource Engineer. Hunter grew-up in Beulah, ND, with a younger sister Hannah, and his identical twin brother Logan. His brother Logan is currently studying theological seminary and is looking forward to future ordination to become a priest. Hunter graduated from the University of North Dakota and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering. In his previous work experience, Hunter provided engineering services for the Dickinson District of the North Dakota Department of Transportation, and was also employed at Coyote Creek Mine.
Hunter enjoys the outdoors, fitness, hunting, and spending time with his wife Becky. Becky is employed at the University of Mary as a Global Studies Coordinator. The couple celebrated their first wedding anniversary in August and will welcome their first child in October.
Julie Prescott, Cost-Share Program Manager
Julie joined the Water Commission staff in August as a Cost-Share Program Manager in the Planning and Education Division. Julie previously worked at the Water Commission from 1999-2013. She was an Engineer and later a Risk MAP Coordinator in the Regulatory Division. She has been a Registered Professional Engineer since 2004 and was most recently employed with the Public Service Commission.
Julie is a graduate of Montana State University and earned her Bachelor of Science degrees in Civil Engineering and Earth Sciences/Geology. She is married to Shawn, an Engineer for BNSF Railway, and they have two daughters Sarah (13) and Katie (11). Julie enjoys reading, gardening, and loves sampling a variety of perfumes.
In August, Kati began her employment in the Water Appropriations Division as an Administrative Assistant. Kati graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Secondary English Education. She taught language arts in Minnesota for over five years and later moved into an administrative position at a commercial glass company in the Twin Cities.
After that, she became a full-time stay-at-home mom to her two boys. Kati enjoys spending time with her family at their cabin on Lake Isabel, hunting, fishing, exploring yurts in remote locations, and watching her boys participate in wrestling matches and baseball games. Kati is excited to be back in the workforce and is looking forward to assisting the SWC.
In August, Ryan joined the Water Commission as an Engineering Technician in Data and Technology Services. Ryan grew up in Hettinger, ND, and now resides in Flasher, ND. He attended Automotive Technology classes at Western Dakota Tech in Rapid City, SD. Ryan previously worked as a farmhand and most recently was employed at Knife River. He is skilled in concrete finishing and concrete masonry. Ryan will primarily be in the field, monitoring wells and installing PRESENS units for the agency.
In his free time, Ryan enjoys spending time with his girlfriend Emilee, hunting, fishing, motorcycles, and autobody projects. He is especially proud of his team, 6R Racing. Most weekends, you can find Ryan on the track racing in a modified stock car or competing on a high-speed dirt track.
Tia joined the Water Commission staff on August 24 as a Sovereign Lands Specialist in the Regulatory Division. She is originally from Killdeer, ND, and later moved to Bismarck to pursue her college degree. Tia began her education at the University of Mary after earning a scholarship in track and field where she excelled at the high jump. After suffering an unfortunate injury, she later transferred to the University of North Dakota where she continued her major in Biology with an emphasis on secondary education and coaching. She graduated in 2009 after completing her student teaching in the state of Washington. Tia continued to reside in Washington, working as a long-term substitute teacher in a local school. She also volunteered at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle in the tropical rainforest area.
In 2011, Tia moved back to North Dakota and was employed with the North Dakota Oil and Gas Division in the Dickinson field office. She was then transferred to the Bismarck office and worked as an Underground Injection Control Engineering Tech and Waste Treatment Plant Engineering Tech. Tia is also a mom to Kinsley (6) and Harrison (3). Tia and her boyfriend Nick are happy to announce that they are expecting a baby in November.
Phase 1 of Rice Lake Investigation Completed
Phase 1 of a two-phased study was recently completed regarding an investigation of Rice Lake in Emmons County. Earlier this year, Emmons County Water Resource Board (Board) and the Water Commission entered into an agreement to conduct a study of Rice Lake. Phase 1 focused on a crucial survey conducted by the Water Commission survey crew. The survey concentrated on collection of field data, analyzing existing conditions at the lake, determining the control points of the lake, and evaluating the topography of the downstream flow path.
Rice Lake’s water level has been gradually rising since the 1930s, but has significantly increased over the past few years, resulting in its connection with downstream waterbodies in early 2020. The rising water level is a concern for nearby homes, critical roads, and agricultural land.
Phase 1 of this project was completed in the beginning of August by Alexis Faber, Water Resource Engineer with the Water Commission. That phase focused on analyzing existing conditions of the lake by compiling historic data and surveying water surfaces and points of interest around the lake, such as culverts and high points along the downstream flow path. There has been some debate as to what the natural overflow elevation of the lake is, and what the associated impacts would be when the lake is at that level.
Rice Lake is a complex system with more than one overflow control point, as it lies within the Prairie Pothole Region. When Rice Lake is high enough, it flows into four depressions downstream before eventually flowing into Lake Oahe - approximately 30 miles downstream of the final control point. This year was the first year on record where the lake has overflown. The results of Phase 1 were discussed at the Board meeting on August 31, and next steps for the study were confirmed.
Phase 2 of the project will focus on studying the hydrology of the lake and analyzing mitigative alternatives and their associated downstream impacts. In the meantime, the Board is interested in pursuing temporary measures to alleviate flooding issues. They intend to apply for an emergency drain license in preparation for the 2021 spring melt.
2021 Water Development Plan Progress Update
Following the completion of the virtual commissioner-hosted basin meetings in July, Water Commission staff received changes and updates to various projects across the state. These changes have since been incorporated into the most recent draft of the project inventory. In addition, a few project sponsors requested reconsideration of their project’s priority as assigned by the Commission during project reviews. Staff worked with sponsors and applicable Commissioners to ensure consistent responses and adherence to policy.
Staff continues to actively work on various sections of the Water Development Plan. A final draft will be presented to the Legislature and Governor’s Office ahead of the upcoming Legislative session, and a public version will be available in early 2021.
Continuing Water Education Outreach
This summer, Discover Today’s Watershed Institute held a water education opportunity in Wahpeton. In compliance with the ND Smart Restart guidelines and social distancing practices, the institute and the Water Commission provided a week-long event for participants to explore and discuss current watershed management and water resource issues regarding the Red River. Participants received real world, user-friendly, and classroom ready instruction from specially trained Project WET (Water Education for Today) facilitators, resource professionals, and scientists.
Project WET is an award-winning, non-profit water education program and publisher. The program facilitates and promotes awareness, appreciation, knowledge, and stewardship of water resources through the dissemination of classroom-ready teaching aids, and the establishment of internationally-sponsored Project WET programs.
The Water Commission is committed to reaching children, parents, teachers, and community members of North Dakota with water education. In the future, the Water Commission hopes to further promote water education opportunities virtually by utilizing various technology platforms.
For more information about water education, please go to
SWC Implements Updated Drainage Policies
Water Resource Districts (WRD) and the Office of the State Engineer (OSE) are responsible for regulating drainage in North Dakota as authorized under North Dakota Century Code (NDCC) title 61. The Engineering and Permitting Section within the OSE’s Regulatory Division is responsible for processing surface drainage permit applications and determining whether an application received constitutes “drainage of statewide or interdistrict significance.”
Effective in March 2020, updates were authorized for new policy and guidelines regarding drainage permits. The new changes are reflected in the Water Commission’s publications, “REG-2020-2 – Drainage Permitting Definitions” and “REG-2020-3 - Statewide or Interdistrict Significance Determinations.”
These new policies intend to establish clearer definitions of a “drain” and what constitutes “draining” or “drainage” requiring a permit under NDCC section 61-32-03, and North Dakota Administrative Code chapter 89-02-01. The policies are also intended to streamline the OSE’s statewide or interdistrict significance determination process.
The OSE’s goal with these new policies is to provide improved guidance to OSE staff, WRDs, and the general public regarding the jurisdictional limits of drainage permitting, as well as what projects will and will not be considered to be drainage of statewide or interdistrict significance.
For more information, please contact Matt Lindsay, Engineering and Permitting Section Manager at (701) 328-4949.
The updated documents can be viewed here:
Project Funding Update
At the Water Commission meetings held in July and August, Commissioners deferred acting on nearly all new cost-share requests due to ongoing uncertainties related to the agency’s revenue stream, which has been negatively impacted due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. The one exception, however, was the approval of cost-share for the North Prairie Regional Water District to complete a water distribution system in the City of Benedict.
The Benedict project involves the installation of 6,600 feet of water distribution lines, and individual service connections to 42 users. The existing system in Benedict is experiencing frequent breaks, and will be abandoned after the new system is in place. Because of the critical nature of Benedict’s water distribution situation, the Commission approved cost-share in the amount of $67,500 to cover 60% of the local share.
In addition to contributions from the Water Commission and the local sponsor, the Benedict project ranked as one of the highest priorities under the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality’s Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund. Through that program, the Benedict project is eligible for loan forgiveness in the amount of $337,500, or 75% of the $450,000 total project cost.