Water Once Again Flowing Through St. Mary’s System

A photo from September 24th of ongoing construction on Drop 2. Courtesy of the Milk River Joint Board of Control

CUT BANK, Mont. (NMB) – 22 weeks after the catastrophic collapse of Drop 5 of the St. Mary Canal and Conveyance Works System, water is once again flowing through the system.

Milk River Joint Board of Control Project Manager Jennifer Patrick says water began running through the system at around noon on Thursday.

“We started Sherburne Reservoir on Monday, and then we started diverting into the actual canal (on Thursday). It takes about 2 1/2 days to get to the drops, so we’ll see that over the new structure. Then we’ll see water probably into Fresno Reservoir and the Milk River in 10 days, is usually the travel time. It’s a little bit dryer than normal years when we do start up, so it may be a day longer, but we should be seeing it in the Milk River soon.”

A small amount of work is still being completed, including seeding work on drop 2 and drop 5. All work on the current project will be done by next week, allowing the flow of water to increase to 600 cubic feet/second.

Patrick says this moment is the culmination of months of hard work, but it’s not over quite yet.

“It’s kind of one of those pretty cool moments. But once it gets over the structures, then I’ll take that sigh of relief and see how our structures do. But I’m confident the engineering team and the contractors nailed it. We’re just excited to see them run.”

As of Thursday afternoon, Fresno Reservoir was at 15,664 acre-feet, or 16.9 percent capacity. The pool elevation was 2,547.7, or 27.3 feet below full pool. Patrick says they are projecting that they will be able to double the current acre footage before having to turn the system back off at the end of the month.

“It’s going to bring up the elevation of Fresno going into winter, and we’re pretty excited about that possibility and being able to run water for the next couple weeks.”

The St. Mary Canal and Conveyance Works System provides supplemental irrigation water along the Milk River, as well as water to the Fort Belknap Indian Community, the Blackfeet Nation and many towns along the Hi-Line.

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