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Work going forward to repair St. Mary Diversion

Work expected to be completed by late summer

 


A contractor has been hired to do work to repair damage that has shut down the system that provides much of the water that flows through the Milk River, with no shortage of water expected in the communities that use the river as a source of water.

St. Mary Diversion and Conveyance Works has been shut down since Drop 5, at the end of the 29-mile system, washed out and collapsed May 17.

A joint press release by the Bureau of Reclamation and Milk River Joint Board of Control says Sletten Construction Company was selected to do the repairs, expected to be completed by late summer.

“The Joint Board and HDR Engineering will manage the construction project and has selected Sletten Construction Companies to perform the construction,” the release says “Collaboration with the Blackfeet Tribe to complete cultural clearances and permitting will be accomplished before construction begins.”

A decision was made by the Milk River Joint Board of Control, Bureau of Reclamation, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to immediately replace the Drop 5 structure as well Drop 2, the release said.

Drop 2, the release says, is another high-risk drop structure on which construction is to be completed by late this summer.

“This may allow late delivery of water to Fresno Reservoir, near Havre for additional storage,” it said.  “Currently, Fresno Dam and Nelson Reservoir have above-average storage levels and will be used to provide continued irrigation deliveries into July.”

The release said water shortages in the communities below Fresno Dam that use the Milk River for their municipal water supply — including Havre, Chinook and Harlem — are not expected.

The Milk River Joint Board of Control, Bureau of Reclamation and the state of Montana, through the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation assessed the site May 27 if an interim fix was available to move water this year, it says.

“The team concluded that the complexities and costs associated with providing an interim solution to run water this irrigation season could not be justified considering the anticipated costs and minimal gains in water supply,” it added.

The project, part of the Milk River Project created to provide irrigation water in the Milk River, was one of the first the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was authorized to build shortly after it was established at the start of the last century.

It uses a series of dams, dikes, canals and siphons to transfer water from the St. Mary River into the Milk River.

The system is funded mainly by the water users, primarily Milk River irrigators.

That funding has not been enough for a major overhaul of the more-than-100-year-old diversion, and it has been Band-Aided together with repairs for decades.

Milk River water users, warning of a catastrophic failure like what occurred May 17, began campaigning at the start of the last decade to find funding to rehabilitate the system to prevent catastrophic failure, which led to the state establishing the St. Mary Rehabilitation Working Group in 2003. The group has been working to plan and find funding for rehabilitation ever since.

Bills sponsored last year by the members of Montana’s congressional delegation to switch the funding ratio, so 75 percent is picked up by the federal government and 25 percent by the users, are pending in Congress.

For more information, about details and updates, on facilities and operations managed by the Montana Area Office Bureau of Reclamation will be posted on its website at https://www.usbr.gov/gp/mtao/ .

 

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