[Authorized: NDCC Chapter 61-02]
Management of water resources in Dakota Territory began with an 1887 law regulating the creation and placement of artisan wells. The judge of probate court was designated ex-officio artisan well commissioner for the county. Responsibility for managing water resources in North Dakota began with the establishment of the office of the Superintendent of Irrigation and Forestry in 1891 (S. L. 1891, Ch. 76). The Superintendent had general authority for the development of irrigation in the state, and between 1893 and 1895 had the duties of the State Game and Fish Commissioner. Still, much of the authority for water control was on the local level. Another law passed in the 1891 session allowed boards of county commissioners to promote and regulate irrigation in their respective counties (S. L. 1891, Ch. 75).
In 1905, the State Legislature authorized the Governor to appoint a State Engineer to serve a four-year term. The State Engineer was charged with conducting hydrographic surveys, supervision of the state's waters, and adjudication of water rights. In the same session, the State Legislature also created the Board of Water Commissioners consisting of the State Engineer and one member each from the four water districts in the state. The Board of Water Commissioners had general supervision over the apportionment of state waters. The state also encouraged creation of local or regional water users associations to promote irrigation projects. The water users associations were allowed right-of-way over state lands for construction of irrigation works (S. L. 1905, Ch. 193).
A Flood Control Commission consisting of the State Engineer, Dean of the School of Engineering at the North Dakota Agricultural College, Dean of the School of Mines at the University of North Dakota, and two gubernatorial appointees serving two-year terms was authorized in 1919. The Flood Control Commission was required to appoint a Flood Control Engineer for a two-year term to prepare plans and specifications for a flood control program in the state. During this period, ca. 1905 to 1930s, the state funded a large number of flood control and irrigation projects.
Drought and depression during the 1930s convinced the State Legislature that a comprehensive program to develop the state's water resources was needed. The crises led to the establishment of a system of water conservation districts in 1935.
The State Water Conservation Commission was created in 1937 (S. L. 1937, Ch. 255). When established in 1937, the State Water Conservation Commission consisted of the Governor and six other members appointed by the Governor for six-year terms. The membership of the State Water Conservation Commission was reduced to four appointed members in 1939, expanded to five appointed members and the Commissioner of Agriculture and Labor in 1949. In 1941, the State Water Conservation Commission was given the authority to appoint the State Engineer to head the agency and serve as chief engineer and secretary to the Commission.
Legislation in 1981 increased the membership of the State Water Conservation Commission allowing the agency to be referred to as the "State Water Commission" (S. L. 1981, Ch. 626). Additionally, in 1981, the Weather Modification Board (Atmospheric Resource Board) became a quasi-independent division of the State Water Commission. The State Water Conservation Commission and the State Engineer had authority over flood control, water resource conservation and development, irrigation, weather modification, water rights, and drainage control in the state. The Commission planned and constructed dams, made water facility projects available to the public, and developed statewide plans for future resources development. Through legislation in 1983, the agency became known as the State Water Commission. Since that time, with the Governor as chair, the Commission also includes the Commissioner of Agriculture and seven other members appointed by the Governor to provide for regional representation. Members serve staggered six-year terms. The Commission appoints the State Engineer to serve as its secretary and as the state's chief engineer.
In 2001 the Legislature increased the powers and duties of the Commission in the area of water quality improvement projects and it acted on conflict of interest issues (S. L. 2001, Ch. 22 & Ch. 563). In 2003 the Commission was given permission to build the Devils Lake outlet (S. L. 2003, Ch. 43), and in 2005 the State Legislature granted the Commission authority to operate and maintain the Devils Lake outlet (S. L. 2005, Ch. 21). During the 2007 legislative session the Commission was authorized to establish an emergency drinking water system grant program for municipalities, tribes, and rural water systems, whose primary source of water is the Missouri River, Lake Sakakawea, or Lake Oahe. The Commission was to establish procedures, cost-share guidelines, and other criteria for municipalities, tribes, and rural water systems when a request for emergency assistance arose due to low water on any of the three waterways. The program provided emergency grant funds to the three groups when they faced a critical need or health risk as a result of the inability to supply to their citizens with an adequate quantity of quality water from the water intake system (S. L. 2007, Ch. 554). Another issue in 2007 concerned a requirement by the Legislature for the Commission to assist with the cost of constructing the Red River Valley Water Supply Project (S. L. 2007, Ch. 559). In 2009 the Legislature directed the Commission to submit a report on the guidelines and policies developed by the Commission on water retention projects as they relate to flood control (S. L. 2009, Ch. 592). In meeting its objectives of water conservation, development, and flood control, the Commission continues to operate through its five divisions.
1887 Passage of a law regulating artisan wells.
1891-1905 The Superintendent of Irrigation and Forestry and boards of county commissioners had responsibility for development of irrigation in the state (S. L. 1891, Ch. 76). Another law allowed boards of county commissioners to promote and regulate irrigation in their respective counties (S. L. 1891, Ch. 75).
1905 Creation of the office of the State Engineer and the Board of Water Commissioners (S. L. 1905, Ch. 34).
1919 Creation of the Flood Control Commission (S. L. 1919, Ch. 116).
1937 Creation of the State Water Conservation Commission (S. L. 1937, Ch. 255).
1939 A change in membership to four appointed members (S. L. 1939, Ch. 256).
1941 The Commission was given authority to enter into interstate compacts and to appoint a State (chief) Engineer (S. L. 1941, Ch. 228, Ch. 300).
1949 The commission members included the Governor, the commissioner of agriculture and labor, and five appointed members (S.L. 1949, Ch. 344).
1981 The Commission increased to nine members including the Governor and Commissioner of Agriculture (S. L. 1981, Ch. 626). The Weather Modification Board (Atmospheric Resource Board) was designated a quasi- independent division of the State Water Conservation Commission (S. L. 1981, Ch. 631).
1983 The agency was designated as the State Water Commission (S. L. 1983, Ch. 676).
1985 North Dakota became the first state to complete a country ground water inventory through the efforts of the Hydrology Division.
2001 Legislature added to the list of Commission powers and duties, water quality improvement projects, and acted on issues of conflict of interest (S. L. 2001, Ch. 22 & Ch. 563).
2003 Permission to build the Devils Lake outlet was granted to the Commission by State Legislature (S. L. 2003, Ch. 43).
2005 The State Legislature authorized the Commission to operate and maintain the Devils Lake outlet (S. L. 2005, Ch. 21).
2007 The Commission was allowed to establish an emergency municipal, tribal, and rural water system drinking water grant program (S. L. 2007, Ch. 554).
2009 The Legislature directed the Commission to submit a report on the guidelines and policies developed by the Commission relating to water retention projects as they relate to flood control (S. L. 2009, Ch. 592).
30649 Subject Files.
30650 Missouri Basin Inter-Agency Committee Minutes.
30688 Activity Reports.
30938 Project Files.
30939 Maps, Drawings, and Charts.
31253 Land and Water Resource Survey Files.
31496 Administration. Fred Fredrickson Records.
31816 Biennial Reports.
31817 Reference Publications.
31851 Legal Division Federal Court Cases File.
31885 County Projects, Programs, and Services File.
31866 Maps and Chart File.
31977 Water Development. Resurvey Notes.
32018 Application and Assigned Permit Log. (Library transfer)
32039 Administration. Correspondence.
32040 Administration. Water Permits Files.
Gray, David P. Guide to the North Dakota State Archives, 1985.
North Dakota Secretary of State Blue Book.
North Dakota State Legislature Session Laws.
612 East Boulevard Ave.
Bismarck, North Dakota 58505
Museum Store: 8am - 5pm M-F; Sat. & Sun. 10am - 5pm.
State Archives: 8am - 4:30pm., M-F, except state holidays, and 2nd Sat. of each month, 10am - 4:30 pm.
State Historical Society offices: 8am - 5pm M-F, except state holidays.
phone: (701) 328-2666
fax: (701) 328-3710