If officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are looking for a legal fight, they've likely found one.
Lawmakers from North Dakota and South Dakota promised this week to recommend suing the Corps should it continue with its plan to charge businesses, farmers, rancher and tribes for access to Missouri River water. The Corps has said it will begin a process to create a "fair and equitable pricing methodology" for charging users of the river water.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., vowed that the state will aggressively fight the Corps plan, noting that there is no legal, historical or ethical basis for charging North Dakotans to use water that is already rightfully theirs. The senator cited the Dakota Water Resources Act of 2000 as just one example of authorization to use Missouri River water, adding that the state was promised access to the water when Garrison Dam was built and thousands of acres were flooded to create Lake Sakakawea.
South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard pointed out that states have the right to manage the river's natural flow, which is water that would flow through the system without the manmade reservoirs. He also criticized the Corps' plan because it charges upstream states for water usage, users in states below the dams would not be charged even though they clearly benefit from the structures.
The whole notion is simply wrong, and we trust Hoeven and South Dakota officials will make good on their warnings of legal action should the Corps continue down its current path.
We've yet to hear Corps officials cite legal support or historical documents providing precedent for their money-grabbing proposal, which would harm North Dakota residents and cities who have long enjoyed legal access to Missouri River water.
Again, at its essence, the very notion of charging states to use water that already belongs to them is preposterous, bordering on insulting. The Corps should drop its ill-advised plan before they and a number of states are forced to spend years battling in court, costing taxpayers who knows how much money.