Havre Daily News
Montana was one of six Western states named this month to receive federal money to reduce conflicts over scarce water supplies.
The federal Bureau of Reclamation is giving the state more than $81,000 for the purchase of equipment that will monitor the use of Milk River water by contract holders on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border.
The equipment will allow the state to ensure it is getting the water it was allocated in a 1921 order by the International Joint Commission, a body formed in 1909 to settle water disputes between the two countries. The IJC order requires that the Milk and St. Mary rivers be treated as one stream, and that their flows be divided equally between the two countries.
At the request of then Gov. Judy Martz, the commission held public meetings in Havre; Malta; Eastend, Saskatchewan; and Lethbridge, Alberta. Some in Havre spoke in favor of altering the 1921 IJC order to allow more water to flow into Montana, citing agricultural and economic concerns stemming from north-central Montana's drought.
The commission decided against revisiting the order, but formed a task force to study how the water is being divided between the two countries and suggest solutions to ensure each countryreceives the amount of water it is supposed to.
"The intent is to improve the administration of the apportionment of the Milk River between the United States and Canada," state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Water Resources Bureau chief Rich Moy said. "The treaty was very fair, (but) we felt that Canada received more water than us under the treaty."
The grant money, which comes from a new Water 2025 program, along with more than $107,000 in state money, will be used to purchase streamflow gauges for the Milk River and its tributaries, develop a computer model for the Milk and St. Mary rivers, and use satellite imagery to verify how much water is being consumed in Canada before the Milk River flows back into Montana.
"It's to get a more accurate picture of the amount of water flow," Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Todd Dixon said.
There are now water measurement devices in the Milk River that are monitored by the U.S. Geological Survey and a Canadian agency, Dixon said. The added gauges will enable Montana officials to get a handle on how much water is being taken from the Milk River in Montana.
Moy said the grant money is a good thing for the state and for Milk River water users.
"I'm very pleased that the Bureau of Reclamation awarded Montana this grant, because of what it does," Moy said. "It allows us to do a better job and allocate that water."