Progress Continues on Repairs to Drop Structures of St. Mary’s System

HAVRE, Mont. (NMB) – As summer transitions into fall in Montana, work is continuing to replace two drop structures on the St. Mary’s Canal and Conveyance System.

Drop 5 of the system collapsed in mid-May, cutting off the flow of water from the system into the Milk River. The emergency maintenance currently underway is replacing Drop 5 as well as Drop 2, which was considered particularly vulnerable.

Jennifer Patrick, Project Manager for the Milk River Joint Board of Control, says work on drop 2 is 85 percent complete, while drop 5 is at around 50 percent completion.

“We’re working on some other subcontractors that Sletten (Construction, the primary contractor) are having come in to do some of the other work, liners, stuff like that. So those schedules are all lining up. Then concrete pours and wall pours. And if the weather stays cooperative as it has so far, we are hoping that, I would say early, but I’m guessing mid-October (for a completion date).”

Once the project is completed, it will take around 10 days to get water from the system down into Fresno Reservoir, weather permitting

“From the diversion structures down to the drops is about four or five days…From there, 6-10 days depending on aquifer recharges and things like that, that we will see some of that water in Fresno. These are some lofty goals to get that thing back on and going. But the biggest thing is if we can just run water through for 10, 15 days, that could bring the reservoir up 10,000 to 20,000 acre feet, that’s a big deal going into winter and the start up of next year’s irrigation season. So, we’re pushing.”

The estimated cost for this project remains at $8 million dollars. Due to the approval of an emergency maintenance request, the cost share for this project is around 51 percent on federal government, and 49 percent local funds. The burden on local irrigators is being lifted somewhat by help from state organizations.

“There is $10 million of bonding at the legislature. The irrigation districts, the municipalities, we had actually three sizeable grants on this. So where we’re kind of looking at is taking $2.8 million on that bonding from the state bonding and then filling it in with all of the other stakeholders: basin, irrigators, stuff like that. So the main goal was the irrigation districts, municipalities, pump contracts, it brings something to the table…We were going to redo drop two. This just all fell in line to allow us to have a nicer cost share…There is quite a big push from the irrigation districts, but it does leave money in their budget, too.”

Once this project is complete, the focus of the Joint Board and the St. Mary’s Rehabilitation Working Group will move towards shifting the cost sharing agreement for other necessary maintenance projects.

The current agreement puts around 75 percent of the burden of project costs on local stakeholders, and this agreement can only be changed through an act of Congress.

Currently, legislation to flip the cost share is stalled in the Senate Natural Resources Committee, which is requesting an ability to pay study in order for it to move forward.

“Whatever we can get to move. If we have to have (an ability to pay) study, if they need to see the numbers, we’re more than willing to do that. We’re just having a problem passing any cost share flip without that ability to pay (study). So I think that’s the direction we need to go.”

Right now, all efforts are on getting the current project done before the weather takes a turn for the worse.

“We are pushing as hard as we can to see any type of water come through. We want you guys to know that, all the stakeholders to know, that we are trying our best to get this up and get some water going and then not see it ever happen again in the future like this.”

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