By Tim Leeds
A large piece of pipe now sits next to the Havre Fire Department garage.
Not just any piece of pipe.
The Milk River Irrigation Authority is displaying an 8-foot by about 10-foot section of the siphon pipe from the St. Mary Diversion complete with rust, pits and dents next to the parking lot south of Havre City Hall.
"They asked me if they could put it there and I said, Sure,'" Havre Mayor Bob Rice said Tuesday after the pipe was brought from Chinook, where it had been on display. "The city of Havre is a big user of the Milk River."
Havre and communities to the east, including Chinook, Harlem and Malta, depend on the Milk River for their municipal water supply. Fresno Reservoir, also fed by the diversion, supplies water to the Hill County Water District, serving towns and rural homes from a few miles outside of Havre to Hill County's western border.
Before it was replaced, the pipe on display was part of an aging irrigation diversion from Lake Sherburne on the east edge of Glacier Park into the north fork of the Milk River that is much in need of repair.
Rainbow Irrigation of Chinook donated the use of a boom truck and employee John Elliot's time to transport the pipe to Havre.
A poster covers the front end of the pipe, with a map of the Milk River Basin and photographs of the diversion system and irrigation projects throughout the basin.
In a year with normal precipitation, the irrigation diversion supplies about half of the water in the Milk River basin. In drought years it supplies more. Last year the St. Mary Diversion provided about 95 percent to 97 percent of the water in the Milk River.
Rice said the thought is that if more people understand how fragile the water supply is in the Milk River Basin, more people would be careful with their water use.
"We have to look at conservation because of the drought," Rice said. "We need to start looking at conservation now instead of when it's too late."
Rice said he is offering the display for field trips by local schools, along with a 20-minute video about the diversion and the Milk River Basin.
The Milk River Joint Board of Control has more in mind than conservation. The St. Mary Diversion is one of the first projects the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was authorized to work on after it was created in 1902, and bureau representatives say it is in need of serious repair. Some parts of the diversion are 80 years old or older.
Kay Blatter, chairman of the Milk River Joint Board of Control, said today the authority wants to start early in building grass-roots support for a congressional appropriation to fully repair the diversion.
"We just want to help people understand how critical all of this is to the lifeline of the Hi-Line," he said. "If these had failed, we would have been in a world of hurt."
The system uses two 8-foot pipes to siphon water about 3,000 feet to a cement canal that transports the water about 30 miles to the north fork of the Milk River. Blatter said the first pipe was installed in 1917, and the second in 1927.
Blatter said the pipes were expected to last about 50 or 60 years.
"These facilities have exceeded their lifetime expected by the bureau," he said.
The board wants people to start contacting members of Congress about the issue.
Randy Reed of Chinook is coordinating distribution of postcards printed for Walleyes Unlimited. The postcards describe the system and its problems. Some have pictures of the St. Mary Diversion and some have pictures of Fresno Reservoir. The cards are pre-addressed to Montana's congressional delegation.
Reed said he has already distributed some of the postcards at events and has some in businesses in Havre, Chinook and Harlem. He said the cards are being used pretty quickly, and he hopes to be able to raise funds to print more when all 5,000 are used.
The bureau estimates that rebuilding the St. Mary Diversion will cost about $100 million.
"(Public support) is what it's going to take to go through," Reed said.
He noted that the Bureau of Reclamation had requested slightly over $100 million for a project in California this year, and received about $35 million.
The bureau is conducting a comprehensive feasibility study for a number of projects, including rebuilding St. Mary Diversion, for improving the Milk River Basin water supply. Reed said Congress probably will be asked to fund the projects in 2004.
Blatter said the irrigation board wants to start early to build grass-roots support.
"If (our congressmen) start getting letters and cards from people, they will start realizing there is a problem here," he said.
Blatter intends to keep the pipe on display in Havre for a couple of months, then move it down the Hi-Line to Harlem, Malta and Glasgow for a couple of months each. He said the authority intends to move it to Helena in January or February so legislators and others attending the 2003 legislative session will become aware of the project.