A Letter From The Interim State Engineer
Presently, North Dakota is enduring the most severe drought the state has experienced in recent years. Drought can inflict serious economic, social, agricultural, and varying ramifications that impact our everyday way of life.
On April 8, 2021, Governor Burgum declared a statewide drought disaster, and to-date, the excessively dry conditions have improved only mildly in some areas. North Dakota has always prided itself on its remarkable and prosperous agriculture industry. Unfortunately, the ceaseless drought conditions have markedly stressed the state’s livestock and ranching operations.
In conjunction with the statewide drought declaration, Governor Burgum, Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, and the State Water Commission reactivated the Drought Disaster Livestock Water Supply Assistance Program (Program). The Program is authorized by North Dakota Century Code, Chapter 61-34, and allows the State Water Commission the ability to provide cost-share assistance to eligible livestock producers with water supply shortages caused by drought.
The Program assists eligible producers with funding for long-term, reliable sources of water for livestock in drought proclamation counties. Approved applicants may qualify for up to $4,500 in cost-share assistance, for up to three projects, on the following items: new water wells, new rural water system connections, new pipeline extensions, pasture taps, and associated works.
According to the U.S. Drought monitor, the majority of North Dakota counties are designated in the D3 extreme drought category. Regrettably, the state suffered a severe heat wave during the first week of June, which led to multiple counties being classified in the exceptional drought D4 category. The harsh conditions have deeply burdened the North Dakota farming season. Pastures are visibly depleted, fire dangers continue to surge, and soil moisture is vastly deteriorated.
North Dakota faced another drastic weather pattern when an unexpected torrential rain event swept through the state in early June - leading to widespread flooding. Water inundated roads and caused significant damage from the spontaneous storm system. People often think these exuberant amounts of rain are beneficial for drought ridden areas, but unfortunately it causes severe implications and hazardous circumstances. When the ground is too dry, it can’t absorb rain fast enough and the water runs over land, causing flooding events.
Water Commission team members diligently addressed the urgent flooding and drought concerns across the state. And as part of those efforts, floodplain management staff collaborated with representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to deal with flood-related challenges, and assisted various communities throughout North Dakota.
In the context of these recent flood-related events, I would also like to remind people about the North Dakota Risk Assessment MapService (NDRAM) - an exceedingly helpful online tool developed by staff at the Water Commission. The flood data viewer allows users to visually display current flood risks and provides water surface elevations, flood depths, and the ability to download engineering model data. The invaluable NDRAM platform is exceptionally beneficial for community planning, mitigation, and disaster recovery actions. NDRAM is a free service provided to the public and can be accessed at www.ndram.swc.nd.gov. For additional information or inquiries, please contact a North Dakota Floodplain Administrator at (701) 328-2759.
Regarding drought response, Water Resource Planners in the Planning and Education Division at the agency continued promptly reviewing applications for the livestock Program in order to provide timely funding assistance to eligible livestock producers. The Water Commission approved an additional $2 million in funding for the Program at the June 8 Commission meeting. In total, $4.1 million has been authorized through multiple approvals since the Program was reactivated in April 2021.
On June 16 and 17, Governor Burgum, Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, Director of the Department of Emergency Services Major General Alan Dohrmann, Homeland Security Director Cody Schulz, and I visited the communities of Washburn, Rugby, and Medora to further address drought impacts across the state. These public town hall meetings were held with farmers, ranchers, and area residents to review the state’s response efforts and discuss the challenges created by extreme drought conditions. Representatives from the NDSU Extension office and the federal Farm Service agency also participated in the public meetings to help answer questions regarding various disaster relief options and assistance programs that are available throughout North Dakota.
For more information regarding the Water Commission’s Drought Disaster Livestock Water Supply Project Assistance Program, please visit www.swc.nd.gov or contact the agency’s Planning and Education Division at (701) 328-4989.
The 2021 Legislative Session ushered in some big changes to water funding and project oversight in North Dakota. In this edition of the Commissioner’s Corner, I will walk through some of the bills with the biggest impact on water projects.
Infrastructure Bonding – House Bill 1431
The addition of bonding as an option for funding large water infrastructure projects sparked headlines throughout the session. The $680 million bonding bill allows infrastructure projects to bond for cash to pay for projects. Earnings from the Legacy Fund, which is funded by revenue from the state’s oil tax, will be used to repay the bonds over a maximum period of 20 years. The approved bonding bill includes the following:
- $435.5 million - FM Area Diversion
- $74.5 million - Souris River Flood Protection Plan (From WAWS Loan Repayment)
- $50 million - revolving loan fund capital
- $70 million - highway projects
- $50 million - NDSU ag building renovations
The ability for these projects to bond takes some of the pressure off the Resources Trust Fund, which benefits other water infrastructure projects.
The infrastructure bonding bill also created a new Bank of North Dakota-managed Water Infrastructure Revolving Loan Fund to aid water projects that do not qualify for other revolving loan funds such as, the Clean Water Revolving Loan Fund and Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund.
SWC Budget - House Bill 1020
The State Water Commission’s (SWC) 2021-2023 appropriation totals $460,299,129, which includes the following line items:
- Salaries & wages $20,537,867
- Operating expenses $43,366,550
- Capital Assets $148,467,437
- Water supply grants $125,000,000
- Rural water supply grants $59,600,000
- Flood control projects $48,000,000
- General water grants $14,277,275
- Basin-wide plan implementation $1,100,000
House Bill 1020 also includes $6 million from the Resources Trust Fund for SWC discretionary use during the biennium. In addition, $22 million in capital assets and $295,363,183 in project allocations are carried over from the previous biennium.
The SWC budget also includes several studies to be completed, including legislative management studies for the Red River Valley Water Supply Project (RRVWSP) and the Northwest Area Water Supply (NAWS) project. Additionally, funding for the development and implementation of a basin-wide water plan is included as a pilot project.
Department of Water Resources – House Bill 1353
The creation of a new department within North Dakota state government to manage water projects means the process will look a little different in the future. The signing of House Bill 1353 approved a change to the name of the Office of State Engineer and the State Water Commission. The office will be renamed the Department of Water Resources (DWR). The change to the State’s Century Code shifts management responsibility from the State Water Commission and State Engineer to a newly created Director position within the new Department of Water Resources.
The Department of Water Resources will oversee the State Water Commission, water law, funding administration, permitting, hearings, legal actions, acquisition of easements, construction, and land restoration of water infrastructure projects. The Department of Water Resources will also be responsible for securing the State’s benefits of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.
All in all, the 2021 Legislative Session was a success on many fronts, especially from the perspective of this State Water Commissioner.
Water Commission’s Drone Program Continues To Flourish
In May, the Water Commission and Office of the State Engineer purchased a new small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) to further enhance and support the agency’s drone program.
A SwellPro SplashDrone3+ was acquired by the Investigations Section to advance data collection, increase the quality of aerial imagery, and elevate precision while conducting safe and reliable flights.
Marketed as the world’s first waterproof quadcopter, the SplashDrone3+, is made from durable reinforced material to ensure a waterproof seal. The water-resistant aircraft also features a unique floating design that allows the pilot to safely take off from the water and maneuver water landings.
The Water Commission’s drone program currently consists of four certified pilots who are staff members in the agency’s Regulatory, Planning and Education, and Water Development Divisions. Damon Grabow, Dan McDonald, Sara Van Ningen, and Steve Best have successfully completed the required testing to obtain the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Remote Pilot Certificate. All of the pilots have demonstrated their knowledge regarding proper regulations, operating requirements, and procedures to safely fly drones.
The Water Commission utilizes drone operations on a wide range of agency projects including, obtaining extensive visual footage and data used in numerous MapServices, assisting with dam inspections, gathering Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data, multiple surveying efforts, and various special investigations.
Keeping up with the latest drone innovation and technological advancements will further advance the agency’s capabilities and services to better meet the needs of the state.
Chris Korkowski Selected As Investigations Section Chief
On June 1, Chris Korkowski started his new role as the Investigations Section Chief in the Water Development Division. He has served the state for nearly eight years as a Water Resource Engineer at the Water Commission and Office of the State Engineer.
Chris began his career in 2013 and a valued member of the team. He continually provides exceptional know-how and skillful assistance with multiple projects. His technical support regarding the Mouse (Souris) River, the International Souris River Study Board, and the International Joint Commission has been important to the advancement of Mouse River basin planning.
He is a University of North Dakota graduate and enjoys spending time with his wife Julie and their daughters Elliot (4) and Carter (3). Chris also has a life-long passion for hunting and notes it as one of the most rewarding things he does.
“I am grateful for this new opportunity and appreciate the noteworthy efforts and improvements that my predecessor, Laura Ackerman, has implemented within the section throughout her leadership role,” stated Chris. “Laura has been a tremendous mentor and I look forward to using her guidance and ideals within my new responsibilities as Investigations Section Chief.”
Laura Ackerman will continue to provide engineering assistance and technical support as a Water Resource Engineer in the Investigations Section in the Water Development Division.
State Engineer Fulfills Obligation Outlined In HB 1437 - An Update To Subsurface Water Management Processes
On April 30, 2021, Governor Burgum signed House Bill 1437, a bill that modifies North Dakota’s subsurface water management system review and approval process.
Water Resource Districts (WRD) and the Office of the State Engineer (OSE) are responsible for regulating drainage in the state as authorized under North Dakota Century Code. North Dakota’s WRDs are responsible for reviewing applications for both surface drainage and subsurface water management, while the OSE is responsible for reviewing applications for surface drainage of statewide significance.
Presented during North Dakota’s 67th Legislative Assembly, HB 1437 amends the existing subsurface water management (i.e. drain tile) permitting process in North Dakota Century Code (N.D.C.C.) § 61-32-03.1 (drain tile statute). The new statute, which was effective immediately following the Governor’s signature, outlines a new process for North Dakota WRDs to follow when reviewing and approving subsurface water management permit applications.
HB 1437 also creates a new section of law that includes a notification requirement for certain subsurface water management systems of less than 80 acres to the local WRD. The new drain tile statute continues to require the State Engineer to develop the application for subsurface water management permits. Consequently, the OSE staff collaborated with a WRD working group, updated two existing documents, and developed a third document for WRDs to use in implementation of the new drain tile statute. These include:
- Application to Install a Subsurface Water Management System (UPDATED)
- Subsurface Water Management Permit (UPDATED)
- Notification to Install Subsurface Water Management System (NEW)
The drainage permit webpage on the Water Commission’s website, www.swc.nd.gov, has been extensively updated and revised in order to better accommodate users with drainage permit requests, policies, and information. The new application and notification forms are available on the agency’s website, under the “Regulation & Appropriation” tab noted in the “Drainage & Water Management” section. A printed permit document is also available to WRDs upon request to the OSE.
The North Dakota Water Resource District’s Association will provide further information to WRDs regarding details of the new subsurface water management process. For additional information, please contact the OSE’s Engineering and Permitting Section at (701) 328-2752.
Cole joined the agency on April 1, 2021, as the new National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Coordinator within the Regulatory Division. Cole will assist in monitoring community floodplain management, support mitigation planning, and provide guidance regarding the NFIP.
He spent his childhood helping on a large-scale family farming operation which spans from north of Devils Lake to south of Starkweather, ND. He grew up with two older brothers and one younger stepbrother. Cole graduated from Devils Lake High School and then attended North Dakota State University. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Emergency Management with a minor in Sociology.
Cole enjoys a variety of hobbies including, snowmobiling, lifting weights, running, studying martial arts, and shooting trap and skeet. He also loves spending time outdoors.
Most recently, Cole completed an internship at the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services (DES). He started at DES as a pandemic planner and later transitioned to a contingency planner. He looks forward to utilizing his current skill set at the Water Commission while acquiring additional knowledge and experience through the Water Commission’s efforts to mitigate flooding in North Dakota.
Cole will represent the NFIP and Water Commission on Thursday, July 29 in Minot at Water Day at the North Dakota State Fair. Visit the agency’s booth to learn more about statewide floodplain management efforts.
Congratulations To Scott Parkin On His Upcoming Retirement
Scott has been a notable employee for nearly 31 years with the Water Commission. He began his career with the agency in 1991 as a Hydrologist in the Water Appropriation Division. Scott was later promoted and will retire as a Hydrologist Manager.
During his employment, Scott has traveled many miles and worked tireless hours conducting field work, collecting and interpreting vital data, and provided exceptional expertise on countless projects. Scott has demonstrated remarkable support and provided outstanding assistance throughout his career. He has admirably served the citizens of North Dakota.
Scott and his wife Becky are relocating to Loveland, Colorado in a home near the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. Their retirement plans include, hiking in Devils Backbone Park, fishing on Big Thompson River, and touring Rocky Mountain National Park and Trail Ridge Road. They are also looking forward to spending more time with their three sons who live in the Denver metro area.