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Water once again running through St. Mary Diversion


Last updated 10/13/2020 at 11:49am

Courtesy photo

Water rushes through the newly repaired drops at the end of the St. Mary Diversion and Conveyance works.

Water was turned on for the first time Saturday to run through the St. Mary Diversion and Conveyance Works 

"This has been such an unbelievable and at times overwhelming project to be a part of," Milk River Joint Board of Control Project Manager Jennifer Patrick said. "The teamwork, partnerships and honestly friendships that have been forged in 22 short weeks are incredible."

Drop 5 collapsed earlier this year.

Work on Drop 2 was already planned and work also was done on Drop 1.

The diversion was built more than 100 years ago by the Bureau of Reclamation as part of the irrigation system the Milk River Project, and also is used as a municipal water source by towns including Havre, Chinook and Harlem and provides recreation opportunities.

The next step is to work on the dam that diverts water into the conveyance work that transports it to the Milk River, although no funding is set for that at the moment.

The diversion provides much of the water that flows through the Milk River, which typically ran dry by fall in 6-out-of-10 years before the diversion was built.

The diversion had been shut down since the drop collapsed May 17.

At the time, Fresno and Nelson reservoirs, part of the Milk River Project that use water from the diversion, were at very high levels, but have been drawn down for irrigation and municipal use.

Fresno and Nelson reservoirs had above-average storage levels and were used to provide continued irrigation deliveries up through July.

Under the original authorization at the start of the last century, most of the funding for the diversion and The Milk River Project comes from users, primarily the irrigators, who now pay for about 75 percent of the costs with the federal government picking up about 25 percent.

The work being done now was declared an emergency project, so the federal government will pick up the first 35 percent with the remainder split between the users and the federal government. The total cost is estimated at about $8 million.

Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., Steve Daines R-Mont., and Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., are trying to shift the funding for the system from about 75 percent provided by the users and 25 percent by the federal government so the federal government picks up about 75 percent of the cost of operation and maintenance.

A study to determine the users ability to pay, which could reduce the amount the users have to pay, has been requested.


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