Havre Daily News
CHINOOK - The state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation is researching whether Canada is taking water from the Milk River that's intended for irrigators in Montana.
Rich Moy of DRNC said Wednesday that comments he heard and measurement he saw when he attended four meetings of the International Joint Commission on water issues lead him to believe that Albertans are using water diverted from the St. Mary River into the Milk River for Montana irrigators.
Moy made his comments at a meeting of the St. Mary Rehabitation Working Group in Chinook. The working group is working to fund improvements to the aging St. Mary Diversion, which provides much of the water in the Milk River.
"One thing I learned is Canadian users are taking St. Mary water. They want that diversion fixed," Moy said.
Val Mellesmoen, spokeswoman for Alberta Environment, the Alberta counterpart of DNRC, said Alberta is not using water from the diversion.
"I'm not sure where they're getting that information or what makes them think that," she said.
Mellesmoen said Alberta accounts for all water taken, and representatives of the International Joint Commission sign off on the accounting.
"We're certainly not taking any diversions (of water) or taking any water inappropriately," she said.
After receiving a request from Gov. Judy Martz, the commission held four meetings in July to collect comments about whether a 1921 order appropriately interprets a 1909 treaty dividing water from the Milk and St. Mary rivers between Canada and the United States. The meetings were held in Havre, Malta, East End, Saskatchewan, and Lethbridge, Alberta.
The state has asked the commission to review the order after a study showed that the order allows Canada to take more water than the United States.
The order gives the United States threefourths of the natural flow of the Milk River during irrigation season and Canada three-fourths of the natural flow of the St. Mary River during irrigation season. Both rivers are split evenly outside of the irrigation season.
The Montana study said that because the St. Mary has more water than the Milk, the Canada receives more than the United States, contrary to the treaty.
Canadians at the July 26 meeting in Havre said any problems should be resolved without changing the 1921 order. Alberta and Saskatchewan have invested millions of dollars in infrastructure based on the order, they said. Much of the provinces' economies are based on that investment and the water the infrastructure provides, they added.
Frank Bevacqua, a spokesman for the International Joint Commission, said the commission will meet Oct. 18-21.
"I wouldn't expect a decision before the commissioners meet face to face in October," he said Thursday. "This is not an issue they want to discuss on the phone."
Moy said during Wednesday's meeting he doesn't expect the commission to reopen the 1921 order, but it may have a study done on the administration of the order. If that study changes the way the order is implemented, it would benefit Montana, he said.
"I think we'll get more water," he said.
The commission consists of three Canadians and three Americans.
The 1921 order also allows the United States to use the channel of the Milk River to divert Lake Sherburne water to north-central Montana irrigators.
DNRC will look at the natural flow of the Milk River and the amount of water Alberta is taking from it to determine whether that water, which is diverted to the Milk by the St. Mary facility, is being taken by Albertans, Moy said in an interview.
The official cutoff date to send comments to the commission about the 1921 order is Tuesday, but Bevacqua added that the commission will consider any comments received until it reaches its decision.
Comments can be mailed to: Secretary, United States Section, 1250 23rd St. N.W., Suite 100, Washington, D.C., 20440, or Secretary, Canadian Section, 234 Laurier Ave., W., 22nd Floor, Ottawa, Ontario, K1P 6K6.
Comments can be e-mailed to: Commission@washington.ijc.org or Commission@ottawa.ijc.org.wa.ijc.org.