HAVRE, Mont. (NMB) – Congressman Greg Gianforte (R) held a round-table conversation on Wednesday morning at Fresno Reservoir with members of the Milk River Joint Board of Control to discuss the latest when it comes to the St. Mary Canal and Conveyance System.
Project Manager Jennifer Patrick said that ongoing repairs, which include a replacement of Drops 2 and 5, are scheduled to be completed by mid-October. The hope is that, weather permitting, some water will be able to flow from the system down the Milk River and into Fresno Reservoir before winter.
The system has been shut off since mid-May when Drop 5 collapsed.
Once that project is complete, the next step will be to fund repairs and replacements for the rest of the century-old project.
“How are we going to pay for this stuff?” Marko Manoukian, co-chair of the St. Mary Rehabilitation Working Group. “If we turned our focus to what the next thing could possibly be, they would be the siphons, they are 104-years-old too. Those might be costing us $13 million more since we first studied them in 2006, so time has not helped us in delaying this.”
Montana’s congressional delegation is attempting to pass legislation that would flip the cost sharing agreement on the project so that the federal government would pay 75 percent of costs, while irrigation stakeholders would pay 25 percent.
“We need to get a funding formula that allows ongoing maintenance to be done in a reasonable way,”Gianforte said. “Getting this long in the tooth and then having a catastrophic failure, it’s awful that we needed a crisis to actually get action. But here we are. And crisis also represents an opportunity.”
Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has been holding up the legislation in the Natural Resources Committee, but Gianforte says he will continue to try to push through this bill, as irrigators are unable to foot the majority of the bill for projects that are likely to cost tens of millions of dollars.
“We need to get this done. It’s important that we change the cost share, because this project was done over 100 years ago, and things have changed. Other (Bureau of Reclamation) projects here in the state have a 75 percent federal contribution, and this one is only 25 percent. Placing the entire burden on the irrigators for domestic water in our communities, for two Indian Reservations, it’s just not fair. So I’ve been encouraged by the bipartisan discussions we’ve been having in the House, I think we’ll be able to get this bill moved along, but we’re gonna need some help in the Senate, and I’m counting on Senator (Jon) Tester (D-MT) and Sentator (Steve) Daines (R-MT) for getting it done over there.”
Although Gianforte admits it will be difficult passing this legislation before the upcoming election, he said he’s hopeful it could get done during the lame-duck session.
“These sorts of bills tend to get attached to larger appropriation bills. If we get some of the major appropriation bills done before the end of the year and we don’t end up extending it with a continuing resolution into next year, I’m hopeful we’ll be able to attach it to one of those bills.”