Havre Daily News Staff and wire report
A bill authorizing work to repair the system that supplies water to the Hi-Line has passed Congress. The Senate Monday passed a bill including authorization for $153 million to repair the St. Mary Diversion, which takes water from Lake Sherburne and the St. Mary River into a canal system that transports the water 29 miles into the North Fork of the Milk River. “This is a long time coming and I’m glad the day is finally here,” Montana’s Sen. Max Baucus said in a press release. “Having water to drink and use for irrigation shouldn’t be a privilege, it should be a right It’s vital to jobs and the economy along the Hi-Line. We’ve cleared the first major hurdle for St. Mary’s. Now we’ll fight to get it, the project, across the goal line.” President Bush has threatened to ve to the Wat e r Resources and Development Act that includes the St. Mary Diversion, which passed the House of Representatives in August. The cost of the bill jumped $9 billion above its anticipated costs. Congress has enough votes to override a presidential veto of the bill. If the bill becomes law, Congress will still have to appropriate funds for work to proceed on the project. Montana’s Rep. Denny Rehberg said in August that he wi l l f ight to provide for Montana’s water needs. “Clean water is truly a backbone of development for Montana’s rural communities,” he said in a press release. “ I’ll continue to make sure Montana’s needs have a seat at the table in terms of federal funding.” The diversion system supplies 70 percent of the water in the Milk River in moist years, and more than 90 percent of the water in extremely dry years. The diversion was authorized in 1903 to provide water for irrigators, but also provides water for Havre, Chinook, Harlem, Fort Belknap, the Hill County Water District west of Havre and the North Havre Water District. The system, which includes a series of dikes, canals and siphons on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, has been patched and repaired over the years, but Hi-Line residents and state agencies have said it could collapse in a catasrophic failure if it is not completely rehabilitated. Early in this decade, a local grassroots effort to rehabilitate the diversion was started, including support from Gov. Judy Martz and now from Gov. Brian Schweitzer. Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger co-chairs the committee overseeing the state effort with Blaine County farmer and rancher Randy Reed.