WASHINGTON — Residents and businesses owners who want to use Missouri River reservoirs shouldn't have to pay for it, lawmakers said Tuesday, touting a provision that will stop an effort from the Army Corps of Engineers to charge for access.
North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven and others said that a provision forbidding a Corps plan to charge a water usage fee for water in Missouri River reservoirs would be included in a larger water projects bill negotiated between the House and the Senate.
An agreement on the larger bill was announced last week, though full details of the agreement haven't been released yet. But Hoeven said he has been assured the provision he drafted, which was included in the Senate's water projects bill, but not the House's, was a part of the compromise.
Under the compromise bill, the Corps will be prohibited for at least 10 years from charging any fees. Congress could extend that period later.
"It just wasn't right," Hoeven said of the proposal, which affected residents in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. "We're entitled to the water and the Corps contended they had the authority to charge for it and they fought us all the way."
The Senate provision was co-sponsored by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. He echoed Hoeven, saying South Dakotans shouldn't be charged for water that was "legally and historically theirs."
"From the beginning, the Corp's surplus water proposal ignored the history and precedent of the Missouri River states' water rights," Thune said.
Lawmakers have fiercely opposed the usage fee, saying it ignores a long history of state water rights and effectively reneges on an agreement states made with the Corps decades ago to compromise viable farm land to enhance flood protections.
In the 1944 Flood Control Act, Congress gave the Corps authority to build dams along the Missouri River that strategically flooded parts of states but gave residents and businesses access to the water.