The United States Congress authorized the Flood Control Act, later to be known as the Pick-Sloan Missouri Basin Program, on December 22, 1944. The main purpose of Pick-Sloan was to divert water from the Missouri River for flood control, navigation, irrigation, and hydro-electic power. In 1965, the United States Congress authorized construction of the Initial Stage of the Garrison Diversion Unit. This would have irrigated 250,000 acres and provided municipal and industrial water delivery, recreation, fish and wildlife mitigation and enhancement, and flood control in the state of North Dakota. Opposition to the Initial Stage, however, delayed program development.
On August 11, 1984, the Garrison Diversion Unit Commission was appointed by the Secretary of the Interior. The Commission's goals were to review the controversy surrounding the authorized Initial Stage of the Garrison Diversion Unit, to evaluate the contemporary water needs of the state of North Dakota, and to make recommendations.
Public meetings were held in several North Dakota communities from September through December, 1984. The "Commission Plan" was articulated in a final report, dated December 20, 1984. Among the plan's recommendations:
1. "Over 130,000 acres of land be irrigated, none of which would drain into Hudson Bay"
2. $200 million in federal grant monies be set aside to assist municipal, rural, and industrial water service for as many as 130 communities and three Indian reservations
3. A water treatment plant be constructed to treat water which would drain into Hudson Bay by way of the Sheyenne River and the Red River. This would allow for municipal, rural, and industrial water service for communities such as Fargo and Grand Forks
The total cost of the Commission Plan was estimated at $1.12 billion in capital costs, including expenditures to date, along with $15.8 million in annual operation, maintenance, and replacement costs.
The state of North Dakota, as well as the Garrison Diversion Conservancy District, supported reauthorization of the project along the lines indicated by the Commission. The Garrison Diversion Unit Reformulation Act of 1986 was signed into law on May 12, 1986.