Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
The Appropriations Committee of the U.S. Senate approved several appropriations bills impacting northcentral Montana last week, including significant increases in spending on water projects in northern Montana. The the bill, however, may not be taken up by the floor of the Senate until a new president takes office, the Senate majority leader has said. The offices of Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, both Montana Democrats, announced that $10 million was approved for the Rocky Boy’s- North Central Montana Water System and $15 million was approved for the Fort Peck-Dry Prairie Rural Water System, each of which will provide water for about 30,000 Montanans. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., announced in late June that the House Appropriations Committee had approved $5 million for the North Central water system and $4 million for the Dry Prairie system, as well as $500,000 for the project to rehabilitate the St. Mary Diversion system, an irrigation project authorized for construction in 1903 that supplies much of the water flowing through the Milk River each year. The North Central system had requested $32 million for each of the last two years, while the St. Mary project requested just less than $5 million for this year. Neither received any funding in the budget proposal from the Bush administration, nor did the Dry Prairie system. Both bills will have to be passed on the floor of the Senate and House, then any difference in the bills resolved in a conference committee. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Thursday that the Senate may wait until the next president is in office before taking up the 12 appropriations Bills approved by committees, including the bill with the water appropriations. Programs will have to operate under a continuance of current funding if that happens. Rehberg said Monday he wants to move the bills through Congress as quickly as possible. “The annual appropriations bills are must-pass pieces of legislation,” said Rehberg. “Each and every one of them is critical to meeting Montana’s priorities such as lowering prices at the pump and providing affordable and accessible healthcare to everyone. As a member of the Appropriations Committee I'm going to continue working to move these bills forward through both the House and Senate so we can get this funding back to the state as soon as possible.” Both Baucus’ and Tester’s offices said Monday the senators will continue to fight to keep the water appropriations regardless of when they are debated. "Jon and Max have worked hard for funding for these important Montana projects. And they will continue to work together through each bill and each agency that administers the federal funds to secure support for Montana's infrastructure needs," said Aaron Murphy, Tester’s spokesman. Baucus’ spokesperson Sara Kuban also said Baucus will work to keep the funding alive. “The projects funded by appropriations bills help create good paying jobs and help provide essential services such as clean water to thousands of Montanans. Max is committed to these projects, and he will continue to work hard to make sure they get the funding they need,” she said. Bridger Pierce, Rehberg’s communication director, said Friday that Rehberg is in a key position to work to keep water project appropriations in the final version of the bills. “Denny will be in a great position, as a member of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee and as the only member of the delegation on the committee, to help fight for increased levels in the conference committee,” Pierce said. The amounts approved by the Senate committee represent a significant increase in the amounts that have trickled in over the last few years. The Rocky Boy’s-North Central project, which was authorized in 2002 and was negotiated in the water compact approved by Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation and the Montana and U.S. governments, requested $32 in funding last year and this year. The budget submitted by President Bush had no funding for the project, but Rehberg, Tester and Baucus last year were able to add $5.94 million for the North Central project, as well as $9.8 million for the Dry Prairie project. The Rocky Boy’s-North Central Montana system will treat water from Tiber Reservoir southwest of Chester to be distributed to nearly 30,000 people living on Rocky Boy and off the reservation in Chouteau, Glacier, Hill Liberty, Pondera, Teton and Toole counties. The authority members include Big Sandy, Box Elder, Havre, the North Havre rural water district and the Hill County Water District. The Dry Prairie project will provide water to some 31,000 on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation and to users off the reservation in Valley, Daniels, Sheridan and Roosevelt counties. The Water Resources Development Act in which the St. Mary project was authorized was vetoed by Bush last fall. Congress overrode the veto, the first override in the Bush administration. Representatives of the St. Mary and North Central projects said earlier this year that even reduced funding would be welcomed. Annmarie Robinson of Bear Paw Development Corp. said that the Rocky Boy’s-North Central system requested $32 million to start work on the water treatment plant that will treat water from Tiber Reservoir. The lesser funding will delay that part of the project, she said. Robinson said the funding can be used to hook up systems in dire need of better water. The project set up with the authority’s share of this year’s funding will connect the North Havre Water District in northern Hill County to the Havre water treatment plant, while Rocky Boy will connect users near Box Elder to a reverse-osmosis water treatment plant near Northern Winz Casino. The North Havre district and five other members of the North Central regional authority the Chester water district, Riverview Colony, Devon Water Inc., the town of Kevin and the Brady County Water District are all under administrative order to improve their water supply. Robinson said the regional authority will work to find systems with excess water treatment capacity, as the Havre plant has, to provide water to those members. The distribution systems will be designed to be hooked to the regional system once it is complete. The $500,000 for the St. Mary project will allow that project to move forward, said Paul Azevedo of the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, although the request was for nearly $5 million. Azevedo said the half-million would be enough to start working on the engineering design and on an environmental impact statement for the project.