By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
A leak in the St. Mary Diversion - the rehabilitation of which has been a hot topic on the Hi-Line - is shutting down the diversion of irrigation water to the Milk River for the time being.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees the system, announced that the diversion is being shut down because a leak was discovered in one of the siphons that transports water across the valley that holds the St. Mary River. The water then travels 29 miles through a canal and is deposited into the Milk River.
Todd Dixon of the Bureau of Reclamation said the leak appears to be minor in the scale of the 90-inch pipe, although the water pressure produced a spectacular leak.
"It was like a spray coming out of the pipe and out of the ground," he said this morning.
The shutdown comes as two meetings are set for the Hi-Line next week: a meeting of the state working group trying to find funding for rehabilitating the diversion, which was authorized in 1903. That meeting is in Havre Monday.
The International Joint Commission that oversees water systems on the boundary of the United States and Canada will meet in Havre Monday and Malta Tuesday.
The IJC will collect public comment on Montana's claim that the state has been shortchanged in the sharing of the water of the Milk and St. Mary rivers by an IJC order made in 1921.
The Bureau of Reclamation expects the flow of the diversion to be completely shut off by Monday.
Jerry Moore of the Bureau of Reclamation said this morning he expects the project to relatively minor. The Milk River irrigators pay for all maintenance and repair of the diversion, but Moore said he thinks this year's budget will have enough to pay for the repairs without any additional charges.
Moore said he thinks the repairs will cost about $10,000. That amount would fit into this year's budget, he said.
If more money than is in the budget is needed, the surplus would be charged to the irrigators, he said.
The project was authorized to provide irrigation water for Milk River irrigators, so they bear all of the cost of maintenance and repairs. The working group meeting Monday is trying to find ways to fund the rehabilitation of the project, estimated to cost around $100 million, without forcing the irrigators to bear all or most of the cost.
Moore said the level of Fresno Reservoir west of Havre, which stores water for the Milk River irrigation project and provides flood control, is higher than expected - the bureau's Web site lists Fresno at 70.4 percent full, or 133 percent of average. Because of that, if the weather the area has been experiencing continues the bureau doesn't expect to have to reduce irrigation allotments, he said.
If there are several hot days, the allotments might need to be adjusted, he said. If that happens, the bureau would hold a conference call with the Milk River Joint Board of Control that oversees the irrigation districts on the river to decide what changes to make, he said.
Moore said the main problem in repairing the diversion is finding the leak, and having access to the pipe. The leaking siphon, installed in 1915, is under the ground. A second siphon was later added which is above ground.
The leak is apparently a 20- to 24-inch long crack running the length of the pipe, but its exact size and location can't be determined because the water is pooling up around the leak, he said.
The bureau will dig a channel to drain the water off on the surface of the ground, avoiding complications from the water soaking the hillside around the pipe, then find the problem and repair it, he said.
He said he expects the diversion to be shut down about two weeks if no complications arise.