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Organizers hope for large turnout at water meeting

Organizers of a Havre meeting to discuss upgrading the system that feeds water to the Milk River are hoping for a large turnout Tuesday.

"Our main concern is that we have people show up at this meeting," said Randy Reed, chairman of the Milk River Development Association.

Lt. Gov. Karl Ohs is hosting the meeting, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Olympic Room at the Duck Inn.

Maryanne Bach, director of the Great Plains Region of the federal Bureau of Reclamation, and Susan Kelly, manager of the bureau's Montana area office, will be at the meeting.

Reed said it is crucial to show broad support for the project to Bach.

come together and help her achieve this," he said. "If we don't get a big turnout, (the money) is going to go elsewhere."

Havre Mayor Bob Rice, who will introduce Ohs, said the city government has been putting the word out to encourage people to attend.

"I think we should pack that room," Rice said.

The purpose of the meeting is to plan how to lobby Congress for funding to rehabilitate the St. Mary diversion. The bureau estimates rehabilitating the project will cost $100 million or more.

The diversion transfers water stored in Lake Sherburne on the border of Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation into the Milk River, where it provides water for irrigation, city water systems and recreational use. The diversion was one of the first projects the Bureau of Reclamation was authorized to build after it was created in 1902.

The diversion supplies about half the water in the Milk River in an average year. It supplied more than 90 percent of the water in the river during the drought year of 2001.

Five irrigation districts from Havre to the Missouri River use water from the Milk River to irrigate crops on more than 100,000 acres of land. Havre, Chinook and Harlem use it for their municipal water supply.

Parts of the diversion are 89 years old, and the system leaks about 20 percent of the water put into it, the Bureau of Reclamation has said. It nearly failed completely in 1999 when leaks saturated a hillside and almost washed out a section, requiring the diversion to be shut down a month for repairs.

Ohs said the state can join local people in lobbying Congress for money for the project, and will probably be able to help provide matching funds.

Reed said more than 60 people came to a meeting in Chinook on Thursday to plan for Tuesday's meeting.

"The main focus of the meeting was to pull the community together so we're showing a unified front in front of the powers, the people paying attention to this thing," he said. "It would be bad if we didn't show broad community support."

Mike Barthel, president of the Fresno Chapter of Walleyes Unlimited, said his group has sent about 300 postcards asking members of the chapter to attend.


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