Havre Daily News
U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns on Sunday said rehabilitating the ailing St. Mary diversion is a priority.
“We got to redo this irrigation system,” Burns said at a meeting in Havre. “I'm tired of putting Band-Aids on it.”
The diversion, a nearly century-old system of canals, siphons and drop structures on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, brings water from the St. Mary River to the Milk River, which used to run dry six out of every 10 summers.
The St. Mary Rehabilitation Working Group is working on a proposal that will be sent to Montana's congressional delegation, one that would ask that the federal government play a large role in funding repairs for the diversion. Under current law, irrigators along the Milk River are solely responsible for the diversion's repair, which is estimated to cost in excess of $125 million.
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials said last week that - barring any unforeseen problems - water delivery for Hi-Line irrigators should be on schedule and adequate.
The St. Mary diversion is set to begin delivering water to the Milk River on March 6.
Bureau officials also said water storage at Lake Sherburne and Fresno Reservoir is above normal, with Sherburne at 207 percent of normal storage and Fresno at 138 percent of normal.
While the federal government now considers the St. Mary diversion as part of an irrigation project, a recent bureau study that took into account other benefits - such as flood control and recreation - means Milk River irrigators this year will pay roughly the same amount they paid last year in operating and maintenance costs even though those costs are rising, bureau officials said. The study means the federal government will offset that increase.
Bureau facilities division manager Dick Long said irrigators' costs will not go down this year, but will instead stay about the same.
The costs are going up because of a construction program, Long said. Some of the work includes a project to recoat steel penstocks at the outlet at Fresno. The penstocks are large pipes that convey water through the dam, he said.