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Thursday, November 13, 2014

DUSTIN GAWRYLOW: IS WAWS PULLING A FAST ONE ON THE INDUSTRIAL COMMISSION?

Last week we alerted you to the Western Area Water Supply's (WAWS) plans to increase its scope and budget to levels that are so high the legislature will be stuck funding what amounts to little more than a subsidy to the oil industry into perpetuity.

Much of the oversight of WAWS currently held by the State Industrial Commission (comprised of the Governor, the Attorney General, and the Agriculture Commissioner).

In September, the Industrial Commission approved a $2 million project to add storage capacity to the water system.

According to Bismarck Tribune's Bakken Breakout section, the storage was sold to the industrial commission as a means of stabilizing the supply for public (non-industrial):

"(Jaret) Wirtz (executive diretor of WAWS) said providing water for domestic use is the priority of the WAWS system. Excess water is being sold at water depots to the oil and gas industry to pay off the cost of the project."

But that is a slightly different message that is being sent to the oil industry itself.

According to a story in The Bakken Magazine, the message is that this storage is primarily for the purpose of stabilizing the availability of water for the oil industry.

"This will help us to satisfy our customers' needs and keep our industrial customers happy with the water they're receiving in the volumes they're requesting," said Jaret Wirtz, WAWSA executive director.

[...]

The lack of storage capacity on the south side of WAWSA's system has caused some shortages for industrial users in McKenzie County.

"The limited amount of storage has affected numerous slowdowns in sales," Wirtz explained. "The additional storage will limit the number of slowdowns and shutoffs we could potentially incur."

From Day 1, WAWS was sold to the legislature as a way to pay for residential and public water by selling water to the oil industry on the side. Along the way, rather quickly, the "on the side" part became the primary concern.

The Industrial Commission is in charge of approving the Bank of North Dakota loans that the legislature will be on the hook for if the WAWS business model fails to deliver as promised.

How much money will it take to ensure that WAWS does not fail?

If the system has a storage capacity issue, it means that the domestic and residential demands are higher than estimated, and that more of the money needs to be directed to that purpose - not propping up the industrial supply side of the project.

The Industrial Commission needs to start looking at this project with a critical eye, and legislators must demand that the Industrial Commission hold WAWS to fulfilling its original mission of providing water to the public - and worry about providing the oil industrial with water AFTER the public's needs are met.

If WAWS cannot fulfill the public water needs, it has no business competing with private businesses for fulfilling the oil industries needs.

Lastly, the Industrial Commissioner should question WAWS's representatives on why there seems to be a difference in the message being told the Industrial Commission and the message being made through public relations efforts to the oil industry.

It has the appearance of trying to mislead the Industrial Commission.

***

-Dustin Gawrylow, Managing Director

North Dakota Watchdog Network

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