Legislative Management – a select group of legislators – selected four major topics to be studied for this newly invented interim committee. Topic 1 – Was to merge a couple sections of the Century Code which are largely complimentary but contain enough differences so that it would be wise to get it together. One was written in 1955 and the other in 1981. Both address water drainage and drain boards. Everyone was said to be in agreement that this should be done and I have heard no one argue this point. I have also been apprised of an effort which has already accomplished this and would suppose that, once this early document is presented to the committee, it should go rather quickly and result eventually into a bill draft which may be presented to the next legislature in January of 2023. Of course, I could be wrong. The second, third and fourth topics are all sure to be more controversial because they challenge the status quo when it comes to the authority and actions of Water Resource Districts (WRD). Every square foot of our state is covered by one WRD or another. Mostly made up of farmers, WRD boards are the ones who hold elections for assessment drains and end up hearing about what projects are needed or wanted in their area.
The second issue to be studied is to recommend procedures to appeal WRD decisions. State Water Commissioner Michael Anderson of the Hillsboro area testified and along with other insights, stated that he thinks WRD board members are mostly self-serving. He also advocated for more than a simple majority to pass an assessment drain project and thinks that the State Water Commission (SWC) should partner with the WRDs and have more oversight. Administrative Law Judge Tim Dawson stated that they could hear contested cases from entities for $195/hr. if they chose to use their Office of Administrative Hearings for such a purpose. North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring mentioned that the agency’s mediation services could also potentially help.
Topic 3 – Study the structural relationship twixt the SWC and WRDs and identify methods for improving WRD accountability. Committee Chairman Larry Luick stated at the beginning that he was hoping to come up with a type of mediation between WRDs and landowners as well. The directive also mentions identifying any areas of concern or need for improvement.
Topic 4 – Study methods, including the use of an independent organization, for assessing the cost of a project in relation to benefits received. Commissioner Anderson testified that he believed landowners of assessments overwhelmingly said they were not involved in the process. WRD attorney Sean Fredericks offered that perhaps if WRDs were statutorily required to hold a meeting for public input before a vote, this could go a long way to quelling that dissatisfaction. He said that while many WRDs do have public meetings of that sort, some may not. It is safe to say that this process will continue and differing opinions will be aired. It is, after all, water. You can see it all for yourself on the legislative website if you have the desire and about five hours.