Hi-Line Expected to See Negative Impacts of St. Mary Canal Failure in Coming Months

HAVRE, Mont. (NMB) – On Sunday, Drop 5 of the St. Mary Canal and Convergence System suffered a “catastrophic failure,” cutting off the flow of water from the system to the Milk River and potentially impacting the water supply for thousands of Montanans across the Hi-Line in the coming months.

Marko Manoukian, Co-Chair of the St. Mary Rehabilitation Working Group, says a catastrophic failure of the 104-year-old system was inevitable.

“That’s why (the working group) met. In order to avoid catastrophic failure. And now we have it…The way that this damage occurred was just the way I thought the drop, when it failed, would look like. The only other thing that could’ve been any more messy in terms of impact is if a siphon collapsed and fell off the mountain. But this is pretty significant.”

Jennifer Patrick, Project Manager of the Milk River Irrigation Project, says it will take several days to know the extent of the damage to Drop 5, since water is still on the structure. But she adds that at a minimum, recreation will be impacted.

“It has impacts on the recreation, the fish, everything like that.  No, Havre is not going to be turned off of water for drinking water. There probably will be restrictions later in the year on watering lawns and stuff like that. But that’s something the city of Havre is going to have to work through.”

Manoukian says some of the most drastic impacts will be for irrigators, as there will likely only be one irrigation this year.

“With one irrigation, there is going to be a forage. We rely on a stored forage to feed our livestock  along the Hi-Line during the winter time. With just one irrigation, there is going to be a forage shortage for those acres that we’re providing. And for other crops like corn, I don’t know how they’ll be irrigated. Because corn likes water in the late season, and there may or may not be water in the late season.”

Manoukian says the water supply for municipalities on the Hi-Line may be impacted later in the year.

“They are going to have to have measures in place to make sure that the reservoir situation, specifically with Fresno, maintains a pool besides the municipal needs, through the winter…In the strategy of using the water that we currently have, it’s going to have to be rationed so that there is enough water that the municipalities will have it throughout the winter time…We’re going to really have to guard that, because the pool of water in Fresno is the pool of water. Unless we get a rain event. That’s it.”

Patrick says a rough estimate for the cost of repair for Drop 5 is between $3 million – $5 million.

“26 percent (of funding for project costs) is federal, the rest is irrigation stakeholders, so municipalities, cities and towns. And so when you’re talking about a $3-5 million drop when it wasn’t an emergency situation, it’s a huge heavy lift for the irrigation district.”

Manoukian says he is hoping the federal government will chip in to provide more financial help, but that a fix will likely not be completed in time for this year’s irrigation season.

“It’s theoretically possible that this thing could be fixed fairly rapidly. But our response system is not set up that way. So I think it’s going to take most of the summer to figure out legislation to set up funding. That puts us towards fall time, which is not a good time to be working on this, and it’s more expensive to be doing this during the winter time. But as much as can get done currently will allow us to be in better shape for next year.”

Manoukian adds that Drop 2 is currently particularly vulnerable to collapsing, and also needs to be fixed in an urgent manner.

Stay tuned to New Media Broadcasters for more on this developing story.

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