By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The Havre City Council is holding a public meeting Monday to revisit the idea of joining the Rocky Boy's/Northcentral Montana Regional Water System.
"I think it is something we need to look at today," said council member Pam Hillery.
Annmarie Robinson of Bear Paw Development Corp. said she will give a presentation at the meeting explaining the project and then answer questions.
The water project got its start during Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation's negotiations of its water compact with the state and federal government. The compact mandates a water supply for residents of the reservation, and the project was expanded to include communities outside of the reservation.
The system will supply water from Lake Elwell at Tiber Dam to some 18,000 people at Rocky Boy and communities and rural water districts in north-central Montana.
Havre elected in the 1990s not to join the project, deciding instead to take out an $8 million loan to upgrade its water treatment plant. The plant treats water from the Milk River for use in the city.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice said he set up Monday's meeting at the request of council members.
Rice, who was elected after Havre opted out of the system, said the city was facing a difficult choice at the time. The cost and timing of the water system was uncertain, and Havre had to improve its aging water treatment plant.
"At the time, I think they made the best choice," he said.
The Havre Area Chamber of Commerce started looking into the idea of Havre joining the water project earlier this year.
Chuck Wimmer, president of the chamber, said today he wants to make sure Havre has enough water for future growth and future generations.
Wimmer said looking at joining the water system is important because of uncertainties about the supply of water from the Milk River.
For instance, the St. Mary Diversion, which supplies much of the water in the river each year, is deteriorating, and a working group headed by Lt. Gov. Karl Ohs is looking at securing federal funding to rehabilitate it.
Wimmer also noted that Alberta is considering construction of a dam on the Milk River to hold more of the water it is allowed by treaty.
Also, the International Joint Commission is now considering a review of a 1921 order regulating how the United States and Canada share the water of the Milk and St. Mary rivers. The state of Montana said the order shorts Montana, giving Canada 60 percent or more of the water.
Under the regional water system authorization, a total of $229 million is authorized for the project, with the federal government paying the entire cost to supply Rocky Boy and 80 percent of the remainder.
The local governments and water authorities will split the remaining cost of $26 million with the state.
In 1997, it was estimated that adding Havre to the system would cost an additional $34 million. The congressional authorization does not provide for that cost, and Havre likely would have to find ways to pay the expense itself if it opted into the system now.
Since Havre is still paying on its loan for the water treatment plant, Rice said, it probably can't afford to join the system.
"I don't know where we would get the money. It would have to be a very advantageous situation for us," he said.
Robinson said it is possible that some communities now in the planned system might drop out, leaving some room for Havre to join.
No community has said it will drop out, she said. The deadline for making the decision to drop out or join the system is in November, she said.
Even if some communities decided not to participate, that probably wouldn't cover all of Havre's costs for joining, she added.
Representatives of Montana's congressional delegation said earlier this year that it may be possible to reopen the authorization and try to include the cost of adding Havre to the system.
Robinson said the Northcentral Montana Regional Water Authority would have to ask Congress to reconsider the authorization if Havre wants to join. The authority would have to decide if adding Havre would hurt or benefit existing members, she said.
Reopening legislative authorization could be risky because Congress could decide to withdraw the authorization, Robinson added.
The meeting on the water project will begin at 7:30 p.m. Monday in City Hall. A regular City Council meeting will follow.