Sen. Baucus secures committee authorization for Hi-Line water system
Montana’s senior U. S. senator, Max Baucus, announced Thursday that he secured crucial authority to repair the aging St. Mary’s diversion along Montana’s Hi-Line. In a first-ever move, Baucus attached $140 million in authorization language to the Water Resources Development Act, which passed his Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Thursday. The move is the first in a two-step process to get funds appropriated for the project. Once the $140 million authorization is finalized, Baucus and Montana’s Congressional delegation can ask Congress to appropriate the dollars. “On behalf of the St. Mary Rehabilitation Working Group, we thank Max for his strong leadership and work in securing this critical authorization,” said Larry Mires of Glasgow, executive director of the St. Mary Rehabilitation Working Group. “We’re very excited about this first crucial step in finding a solution for the aging St. Mary Diversion and a supply of safe reliable water for the Hi-Line of Montana. We have to have this authorization before we can move forward. That’s what makes today’s news so great and we couldn’t be happier with how Max has used his seniority to get it done.” The 85-year-old St. Mary’s diversion, which redirects the Milk River to provide water for municipal and irrigation use along the state’s northern border, is in bad disrepair. “We just cleared a major hurdle,” said Baucus, chairman of the EPW Committee’s Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over the WRDA bill. “I’m committed to working together with my Senate colleagues to get the St. Mary’s project funded because it’s critical to jobs and the economy all along the Hi- Line. We had a big win for clean water on the Hi-Line today.” The canal delivers water from the St. Mary River at Babb to Glasgow and Nashua, serving three municipalities Malta, Conrad and Havre. More than 14,000 Hi-Line residents get their water from the system, and about 150,000 acres of farmland are irrigated by it. Although the diversion is operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, local irrigators have been saddled with funding operations and upkeep. Baucus has listed the St. Mary’s project as his top priority in the fiscal year 2008 Energy and Water Appropriations bill, which is in the beginning stages of the legislative process. In 2005, Baucus helped write and pass a highway bill that is now helping to fund construction projects across Montana. As part of that bill, Baucus included $8 million for St. Mary’s diversion. “Montana’s producers and communities should have access to a reliable and clean water supply and I’m working to make that happen,” Baucus said. Baucus has been working with both the Blackfeet and Fort Belknap tribes, as well as local officials, irrigators and recreationists on the project for several years. Now that the Environment and Public Works Committee has passed the bill, it will go before the full Senate, where it is expected to garner widespread support.