Water users and local, state and federal officials were looking to the future Friday during a celebration of the first hookup on a project that will eventually supply water to 30,000 Montanans in the region.
“This is the beginning of the end,” Dan Keil, president of the North Central Montana Regional Water Authority, said in Havre Friday. “Hopefully, it doesn’t take as long as it took to get here.”
A group started the day at TownHouse Inns of Havre, celebrating the connection of the North Havre Water District in northern Hill County to the water treatment plant in Havre. Once a water treatment plant is completed at Tiber Dam south of Chester, treating water from Lake Elwell there, and pipes are laid to transport the water, the district will be connected to that system.
Havre and other water users on Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation and communities from Loma through Big Sandy and Box Elder and west to Shelby and other communities will also.
After the initial celebration, the group toured the system north of Havre and then traveled to work being done at Tiber Dam.
Keil said the process started in 1991 during water compact discussions Rocky Boy was having with the state and federal government.
“See what we got done? How long did it take?” Keil asked.
Sen. Jon Tester said he and fellow Democratic Sen. Max Baucus fought long and hard to get the appropriation that paid to connect the North Havre rural water district to Havre, and they will continue to do that.
Tester said $20 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 has helped push the project forward “in a big way, like it’s never been funded before.”
Tester said some unused money remains from that act, and he would work to get some of that for the Rocky Boy’s/North Central water project as well as the similar project being built near Fort Peck Indian Reservation.
In a letter read by a staff member of his, Sen. Max Baucus also said he, along with Tester, would work to get more funding for the project.
Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., also congratulated the people in the room for the success of the project, one of the first projects he helped push through Congress after he was elected in 2000. He said when it was authorized it was a promise to the people that the project would be built, and it is the responsibility of the president to include that funding in the budget.
Both President George Bush and President Barack Obama have failed to fully fund the project in their budgets, he said.