Montana’s junior U. S. senator is again pushing for action on water in the region, sending a letter to the federal Office of Management and Budget and to the Secretary of the Interior urging money for Montana regional water projects be included in the next budget request.
In his letter to Secretary Ken Salazar and OMB Deputy Director for Management and Budget, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said significant investments were made in the Rocky Boy’s-North Central Montana Regional Water System and the Fort Peck-Dry Prairie water project through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the 2009 stimulus package, but much more is needed.
“Under current funding levels, these projects actually are growing further from completions, ” Tester wrote, saying inflation is driving up the costs faster than work is being done.
He added that if the presidential administration’s Fiscal Year 2012 budget request on the projects had been adopted, it would have completely stopped work on the projects and further driven up their administrative costs.
Tester and U. S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., have been working and continue to work on the issue.
The two joined seven other senators in July sponsoring a bill to create a special fund to pay for costs of rural water projects. Tester spokesperson Andrea Helling said this morning the senators continue to push that bill and for general funding for the projects, and will reintroduce the rural water fund bill next year if it does not pass this year.
Rocky Boy’s-North Central project manager Mary Helling praised Tester’s efforts on behalf of the issue by sending Wednesday’s letter.
“Since our congressional authorization in 2002, the Rocky Boy’s-North Central Montana Regional Water System project has been utilizing federal dollars to the fullest to bring safe drinking water to our residents in north-central Montana. Our Montana congressional delegation has been a great support, and Sen. Tester has certainly been a big voice for us in Washington, ” she said in a release. “If not for the work he has helped get done, communities like the North Havre County Water District, Riverview Colony and South Chester County Water District would not be receiving the water they are now and the intake facilities and 36-inch core pipeline would not be built to what it is today. ”
ARRA provided a $20 million boost to funding on the north-central Montana project, more than double what it ever had received in prior years. That funding helped pay for the work on the intake facilities and the core pipeline from Tiber Dam going toward Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation.
The Fort Peck-Dry Prairie project and the Rocky Boy’s-North Central Montana regional water project have been struggling to obtain funds since they were authorized.
Baucus and Tester announced in March that the Bureau of Reclamation had authorized $13 million for those projects, with $9 million going to Dry Prairie and $3.9 million to the North Central project.
Congress in 2002 authorized the Rocky Boy’s-North Central project at an estimated cost of $228 million. Since then it has inched along, typically getting $5 million to $10 million in the first years after it was authorized through earmarks made by the members of Montana’s congressional delegation.
When completed, the system is expected to provide water for nearly 30,000 people throughout north-central Montana, including on Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation. The project grew out of the water compact Rocky Boy negotiated with the state and federal government in the 1990s.
The intent of the bill introduced in July is to create a permanent fund to provide a secure source of funding for which rural water projects can apply, in addition to the current process of requesting appropriations through Congress along with funding through agency budgets.
The bill would take $80 million of the generally $1 billion to $2 billion a year in federal oil and gas royalties and proceeds from sale of power from federal hydroelectric dams that goes into the federal reclamation fund and put it into a fund for rural water projects.
The amounts put into the new fund, for which rural water projects would apply, would be in addition to any congressional appropriations or bureau budgeting for water projects. Because the current process is piecemeal and often unpredictable, the new Rural Water Construction Fund is designed to support certainty in planning longer-term projects, Baucus and Tester said in July.