The Blaine County Journal News-Opinion - We've Got The County Covered

Work on St. Mary's Repairs starting to take shape


September 9, 2020

Drop 2

The roughly 18,000 people that rely on water made possible by the St. Mary's Diversion and Milk River Irrigation Projects got a bit of good news this week. Jennifer Patrick, the Project Manager for the Milk River Irrigation Project (MRIP) Joint Board of Control said "As of today, rough numbers, Drop 2 is approximately 85% complete and construction will slow down to focus on catching up Drop 5 so the intake's concrete canal liner can be installed simultaneously to cut down on mobilization costs. The liner installation on both structures is scheduled to start September 21st. Crews have been given a 4-day weekend to recharge and will return Tuesday with some of the largest pours to date ahead of them on Drop 5. Compaction testing and backfilling, as allowed, will continue over the next month to reclaim both sites. We are still optimistic about a completion date in early October which would allow us to move some water across to Fresno Reservoir to minimize fishery damages and provide for an easier startup for the 2021 irrigation season. Drop 5 is roughly 45% complete to date."

On May 17, 2020 a drop structure on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation near Cut Bank failed putting the entire diversion at risk. The St Mary's Diversion system was built more than 100 years ago to secure irrigation water to more than 140,000 acres of land spread across eight districts while also serving as the primary water supply to the towns of Havre, Chinook and Harlem.

Funding for the project was quickly secured my Montana's congressional delegation and according to Patrick, "The current estimate for the replacement of the two drop structures is $8 million. The work is covered under Emergency-EXM through Bureau of Reclamation which changes the allocation from what would normally be 73.96% local and 26.04% federal to 48.07% local and 51.93% federal." The money for the project is coming from a number of sources, "Funding for the repairs are being provided by the Bureau of Reclamation, local irrigators and pumpers, grants from DNRC and Department of Agriculture, St. Mary Rehabilitation Working Group with the remainder covered by State of Montana issued bonds. The 2005 Legislature for the State of Montana designated $10 million bonding authority for non-federal cost share for replacement and rehabilitation of the St. Mary Diversion Facilities infrastructure. This project will only use a portion of that total bond authority" said Patrick.

Previously scheduled work will not be delayed as repair work progresses, "Drop 1 work is also scheduled to start next week to complete some wall overlays and concrete repairs on the delapedated strucutre. This project will not alter the timelines so a decision by the Joint Board of Control to fix it while shut down was made. Reclamation staff has also been busy working on concrete repairs on the siphons, new fish screens for the Diversion Dam and other smaller projects to allow for the canal to startup. Storage levels have been kept high in Sherburne Reservoir, approximately 62,000 acre feet, if the canal does come on. Fresno Reservoir is at 20,000 acre feet, which is low, but still about 5 feet above elevations we saw in the 2017 season. We all continue to move forward with the same goal in mind to move water to Fresno this season, may be a lofty goal, but we are just 17 weeks since the failure today and the team we have assembled all want to see the new structures run water," concluded Patrick.


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