By Tim Leeds
Blaine County residents are calling on the staff of U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., to hear about their water needs.
Randy Reed said he helped organize a meeting for Tuesday at 1 p.m. at the Chinook Motor Inn with Kim Falcon, Baucus' field director in Great Falls, to hear concerns about the system that diverts water from St. Mary River to the Milk River.
The diversion system is so antiquated and in bad repair, Reed said, that major work is needed to keep water from leaking from it. But he doesn't want the water users to have to pay for what could be millions of dollars of repairs, so he is seeking congressional aid, starting with Baucus.
Kay Blatter is chairman of the Milk River Joint Board of Control, the board overseeing irrigation from Lohman to Glasgow. He said several groups, including the Milk River board and Walleyes Unlimited, are trying to start a grass-roots movement to let Montana's congressmen know how bad the situation is.
Blatter said Reed designed two postcards, one with a photo of Fresno Reservoir and one with a photo of Sherburne Dam, from which the St. Mary River flows, with information about the diversion system. Walleye Unlimited is printing 5,000 of the cards for people to send to their congressmen asking for help with the St. Mary Project diversion system and other Milk River issues.
"If we can inundate our congressmen with these postcards it will help," Blatter said.
The St. Mary Project is nearly 100 years old, and Blatter said that although a lot of work has been done to repair and maintain the system, much more work is needed.
The project uses two 90-inch pipes to divert water about 3,500 feet to a canal, which then carries it about 38 miles to the North Fork of the Milk River.
Reed said people need to know how dependent the Milk River is on the St. Mary Project. In a normal year, he said, about half of the water in the Milk River comes from the St. Mary River. Last year about 95 percent came from St. Mary, Reed said.
About 36,000 people from Hill to Valley counties are affected by the Milk River and the water the St. Mary Project provides, Reed said.
Blatter has a symbol of the need for, and problem of, the system that he is bringing to Havre. He said he has a section of the diversion pipe, which was removed when it started to buckle. The pipe, with a map of the Milk River and the St. Mary Project, will be displayed by the parking lot south of Havre City Hall.