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Regional water system, St. Mary Diversion update given to City Council


September 6, 2018

Officials gave Havre City Council an update Tuesday on what is happening with the Rocky Boy’s/North Central Montana Water System Project and on the status of the St. Mary Diversion upgrade.

The regional water system came out of the Rocky Boy Water Compact approved in the 1990s. In 2002, Congress authorized building a water treatment plant at Tiber Reservoir and piping water to Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation as the core portion of the project, along with transporting treated water to communities off the reservation.

The noncore project now extends from Havre to the Rocky Mountain Front and south to Loma and Dutton.

The St. Mary Diversion is a more-than 100-year-old system of dikes, siphons, dams and drop structures that transports water from the St. Mary River into the Milk River. In a normal year, about half the water in the Milk River comes from the diversion; in drought years 80 percent or more could come from the diversion.

During the meeting, representative of North Central Montana Regional Water Authority; KLJ Consulting Engineering; consulting firm AE2S, and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation told council members about important developments that are happening with both systems.

Regional water system project

Plumbing Engineer Nate Weisenburger of AE2S said he has been working on the Rocky Boy’s/North Central Montana Water System Project for the past 10 years, adding that his company began working in conjunction with KLJ on developing plans for the project.

He said that in July of 2010, the first segment of the noncore pipeline was completed, connecting Havre to North Havre, at a cost of $2.3 million.

North Central Montana Regional Water Authority General Manager Jody Hellegaard said that segment, for the moment, is running off of the Havre water treatment plant, with the authority purchasing the water then selling it to North Havre. This is a similar case for other segments of the pipeline that have already been completed, Hellegaard said. She added that in the future, once the Tiber water treatment plant is completed, the water in the pipeline will be from Tiber.

Weisenburger said the water treatment, under construction at Tiber Dam, will, at final build-out for the system, have a capacity of 22 million gallons a day and, although smaller than the original plan that called for 35 million gallons a day capacity, it will be three-and-a-half times larger than Havre’s existing plant.

The water will be drawn from Tiber Reservoir and will meet the demands of participating systems in the regional project he said.

Weisenburger said that once the plant is built, Havre will be one of the last systems to be hooked in.

He added that a joint advisory board of 11 members will oversee the operation of the plant, the operations of the core system and the intake. The board will be made up of five representatives of the water authority, five members of the Chippewa Cree Tribe from Rocky Boy and one representative from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The noncore pipeline system from Chester to Shelby has been reduced from a 36-inch- to a 30-inch-diameter pipe to reduce costs while still effectively providing water service. This has been done because of BOR, under the new administration, has been critical of costs, Weisenburger said.

Plumbing Engineer Tim Uribe of KLJ added that changing the pipeline running from Chester to Shelby saved a significant amount, a total of $34 million.

Recently, Weisenburger said, a bid has been placed for a pipeline to be built from Shelby to Oilmont and Nine-Mile, a project estimated at $13 million. He said this pipeline will provide water service to Nine-Mile where there wasn’t adequate service previously. Until the plant is built, he said, the authority will purchase the water from Shelby and sell it to the communities.

He added that under Hellegaard’s leadership and input and technical input from Uribe, they were able to make modifications to the project to reduce cost while still meeting the needs of the service areas with all bids coming under or within budget.

“We feel pretty good about delivering the noncore systems within the budget that we have to work with,” he said.

The project will go in two phases, moving forward, and Phase Two, building the capacity of the water treatment plant after the pipelines are complete, is where the project could run into some funding issues, Weisenburger said.

He added that, originally, the engineers went to the communities that are participating in the core and noncore systems and asked what each community wanted and what they were willing to pay.

Water Capacity

Uribe said they had initially looked at community desires, but after reviewing the budget, BOR told them that is was not going to work, so instead, they looked at the communities’ needs.

The plant, according to community requests, needed a capacity of 35 million gallons a day, Uribe said, adding that this would cost more than what funding was available. But after looking at the needs of each community, engineers determined that the plant needed the capacity of 22 million gallons a day, he added.

After the initial build out in Phase One, the plant will have a capacity of 11 million gallons a day, Uribe said.

That would provide Havre 2.5 million gallons a day. The final build out of the plant will provide Havre 6.24 million gallons a day, he added.

Weisenburger said the original request submitted by Havre was for 7.7 million gallons a day, but after considerations of the needs of the area and what is used day-to-day 6.24 gallons a day was determined to be sufficient.

Weisenburger said the plant and the system running to Havre and Rocky Boy work off a gravitational system, with both areas significantly lower in elevation than Tiber, letting the water flow with little need for water pumps.

The funding for the project, Uribe said, is critical because once the money is gone there will be no more for the project.

“Failure is not an option,” Uribe said.

Rocky Boy in Phase One will receive 3.5 million gallons a day, Uribe said, adding that after the final build out, it will go up to 5.4 million gallons a day.

Hellegaard said those numbers are estimates based on current population and what it would look like if Rocky Boy saw 50 years of growth, adding that it is a conservative estimate because the needs of the reservation’s water system are still uncertain.

Uribe said Rocky Boy’s system will take possibly 15 years to build, and if the system is not built quickly enough there could be a reduction in the amount of water allocated to Havre in the end.

He added that nobody wants to see that possibility happen and project coordinators are doing everything they can to prevent it.

Havre Public Works Director Dave Peterson said Havre was a key player in the project, and if Havre was not involved, the project wouldn’t have happened.

In 2003 Havre built its own water treatment plant, which is still being paid for, Peterson said, and Havre has agreed that a third of the water in Havre’s system will be from the regional water system, with the other two-thirds coming from the Milk River.

He added that Havre is in a good spot.

He said the issue he sees is that Havre is still responsible to maintain its own system. Havre will receive water from the authority, but the city will still need to pay for its own infrastructure.

Uribe said Havre committing to a third was a bold statement of support for the pipeline and after time it might make more sense to phase out its plant, although it is a benefit to the system either way.

St. Mary Diversion

BOR Area Manager Steve Davies said most of the water that runs through the Havre plant is from Reclamation’s St. Mary and Fresno systems, part of the Milk River Project. Up to 80 percent or more of the water is from the St. Mary’s system, running through the St. Mary diversion, flowing 225 miles down the Milk River into Canada and back into Montana before it is captured in Fresno Reservoir.

Fifty percent of the water that flows through the Milk River is from the St. Mary System, during dry seasons it can make up 80 or 90 percent.

Havre has had a contract to use water from the St. Mary system since 1934, Davies said, with the latest contract expiring in 2023. That is 90 years of service, he added, without shorting Havre a single time.

BOR also plans to operate and maintain the Milk River Project system in perpetuity, he said. The Milk River Project irrigation system provides service for 120,000 acres of land and eight irrigation districts in north-central Montana, and BOR has full intentions to maintain it.

Davies said even though the Havre contract expires in 2023 it can always be renewed and BOR’s St. Mary Diversion will always provide water for Havre.

He added that Havre is relying on a system that is 100 years old with some parts that are that old, but BOR is exploring rehabilitation options to make it work the next 100 years.

The St. Mary system has a capacity of 650 cubic feet per second, he said, but the system use to produce 850 cfs. The goal is to get it back to that level.

The irrigators, for whom building the system was originally authorized, pay 74 percent of the costs for the system, he added, with Havre paying a little more than 1 percent, $15,000 to $20,000 a year.

The Rehabilitation Working Group is working on reducing the irrigators’ share of costs of the system, Davies said, and is working on getting a bill passed through Congress to help.

Davies said the system was in violation of the Endangered Species Act due to the presence of endangered bull trout but the bureau is working on correcting this.

Davies said what the bureau wants to know is where the city of Havre is with its commitment is to this project, adding that it is important for people to know where their water comes from.

He said Havre has a commitment of 2,800 acre feet per year, although the city usually uses only 1,000 acre feet per year. He added that the price will be going up from $6 an acre-foot to $12 an acre-foot, and BOR will formally propose the increase to the council at a future date.

The increase will be, at max capacity of 2,800 acre feet, from $16,800 to $33,000, Davies said, adding that after factoring out the cities average use of 1,000 acre feet it will rise from $6,000 to $12,000.

Davies added that BOR cannot guarantee that the St. Mary system will never short Havre, but it has never in the past, even with dam failures and problems.


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