By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The Montana Legislature will hear testimony Tuesday about the need to repair the diversion that supplies most of the water in the Milk River.
A state working group trying to secure money for the project is asking the Legislature for more than $1.5 million.
Paul Azevedo of the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation said the more people who show up for the hearings the better.
"Showing that grass-roots support carries far more weight," he said.
He said he believes all 15 members of the working group plan to attend the hearings.
"We're hoping they'll make it and bring their families and bring their neighbors," he said.
The testimony is the latest step in the work of the St. Mary Rehabilitation Working Group to find money to repair the St. Mary Diversion. The federal Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees the diversion, has estimated the cost of its rehabilitation at $100 million.
The diversion was authorized in 1903 to divert water from the St. Mary River to the Milk River for irrigators in Montana.
The diversion supplies most of the water in the Milk River, which commonly dried up during the summer before the irrigation project was built.
Havre, Chinook, Harlem, Fort Belknap Agency and the Hill County Water District use water from the Milk River, as well as recreationists and irrigators.
The 1903 authorization of the project requires the irrigators who use the water to pay for all repairs to the diversion in the year the work is done.
The project has had strong support from both the administration of former Gov. Judy Martz and from Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
Azevedo said the group is working on refining a request it made to Congress for $9.5 million in appropriations last year. That included a request for $5 million to create a fund for emergency repairs.
The group is dropping that request, and will ask for $3 million to conduct a study of the facilities and $1.5 million to study the diversion's impact on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and how the rehabilitation could benefit the reservation. The $3 million study would include how to best rehabilitate the diversion.
The requests for money from the state includes two $100,000 requests from Milk River irrigators to repair one of the siphons in the diversion and to repair the outlet structure at Lake Sherburne Dam that stores water for the project.
It also includes a request to create two full-time equivalent positions in DNRC to work on the project; $500,000 for the state match of federal funds to replace a bridge that also holds another siphon; $500,000 to pay for work of the working group, and another $300,000 to pay for other expenses including outreach, travel to Washington, D.C., and hiring an executive director.
The group has selected Larry Mires of Two Rivers Economic Growth in Glasgow as its executive director. Azevedo said they have not yet signed a contract with Mires, who will have to give up his seat on the working group to take the position.
Azevedo said the full-time positions at DNRC are the only requests from the states' general budget. The other requests are for grants from different state programs.
The working group will first meet at 8 a.m. Tuesday at the office of John Tubbs of DNRC. The hearings, before the Joint Subcommittee for Long Range Planning and the Joint Subcommittee for Natural Resources Appropriations, will be at 9 a.m., followed by a press conference at 10 a.m.
On the Net: DNRC St. Mary Rehabilitation Working Group: www.dnrc.state.mt.us/stmarycover.htm