Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
While dollar amounts U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., has added to an appropriations bill to fund water projects in north-central Montana are significantly less than requested, representatives of the projects say they are pleased with his success. “We can put it to use,” Paul Azevedo of the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation said of the $500,000 Rehberg secured for the rehabilitation of the St. Mary Diversion, which supplies much of the water to the Milk River each year. Rehberg also added $5 million for the Rocky Boy’s/North Central Montana Regional Water System and $4 million for the Fort Peck/Dry Prairie Rural Water System to the Energy and Water appropriations bill, which passed committee Wednesday and now will be scheduled for debate on the floor of the House. “Unfortunately, in many parts of rural Montana, having clean drinking water makes you the exception not the rule,” Rehberg, a member of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, said in a press release. “That’s why I’ve proudly worked side-by-side with Montana tribes and organizations to find a cooperative solution to providing a safe water supply to each and every community in our state. I’m happy to say I secured additional funding to move these projects forward.” The requests for appropriations were for $4.895 million on the St. Mary project and for $32 million on the Rocky Boy's/North Central project, but neither received any funding in President Bush’s budget. Annmarie Robinson of Bear Paw Development Corp. said that while the lower funding is keeping the project from doing major work one next step would be to build a water treatment plant by Tiber Reservoir to treat the water for the system’s users the money added is appreciated. “We’re very thankful for what Representative Rehberg was able to put in for the project,” she said. “If we’re able to secure the $5 million the (Chippewa Cree) Tribe and the (regional water) authority will sit down and negotiate to do with the money available.” The water project, which was part of the water compact negotiated and approved by Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation, the Montana state government and the federal government, will provide water for some 30,000 people on and off the reservation, including Havre, Big Sandy, the Hill County Water District, the North Havre Water District and other communities in northcentral Montana. The St. Mary Diversion, authorized in 1903 as an irrigation project, supplies more than 50 percent of the water in the Milk River in average years. During drought years, the diversion supplies as much as 90 percent of the water in the river, diverting water from the St. Mary River through 29 miles of dikes, canals and siphons into the Milk River. As well as supplying irrigation water, it also provides recreation and municipal water for communities including Havre, Chinook and Harlem. Robinson pointed out that the steps taken by Rehberg are just the first steps appropriations will also have to be put into the Senate version of the bill then any differences resolved in a conference committee. The Senate Energy and Water appropriations subcommittee is expected to take up that issue after July 4, U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said, and he added that he will work with U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Rehberg to secure funding. “Nothing is more important to Montana than clean, abundant water,” Baucus said. “Having access to clean water protects public health, keeps our agricultural industry strong, creates good paying jobs and boosts our economy. Budget times are tight here in Washington, but I’m working together with Jon and Denny to get our water projects finished, for all Montanans.” Robinson said both the Chippewa Cree Tribe and the water authority that will administer the project off the reservation have a prioritized list of projects to work on until sufficient funding is approved to work on the water treatment plant and transmission lines. With the $5 million received for this year, the authority is negotiation an agreement with the City of Havre to buy some of the excess capacity of Havre’s water treatment plant and transmit that to the North Havre Water District, which serves part of northern Hill County. Rocky Boy is building a transmission line from a reverse-osmosis water treatment plant by Northern Winz Casino north of Box Elder to supply water to residents of the reservation near Box Elder. Robinson said five other members of the 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, as the North Havre Water District is. She said those have top priority to find an alternative source of water with a system that will be tied into the regional system once it is completed. She said work is progressing on the agreements and engineering of the North Havre system, with construction expected by next year. Azevedo said that while the request for the St. Mary project was nearly $5 million, the half a million secured by Rehberg will give a good start. It can be used to start the process of conducting an environmental impact statement under way and starting on the engineering design, he said. “It gets us started,” Azevedo said. “One other thing is Congress doesn’t like to appropriate more than can be spent in a single year.” He said the timeline for the project is to start working on some component of the rehabilitation by 2011.