Intake dam permit gets a nod

Senator Tester gains assurances that permits for routine maintenance will be granted

by Renee Jean

Senator Jon Tester has secured a commitment from the Bureau of Reclamation that it will work with eastern Montana irrigators to ensure access to water from the Glendive Intake Diversion Dam this growing season.

It had been previously reported in the Sidney Herald that the Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Project was facing some uncertainty when it came to obtaining permits for replacement of any boulders that might be displaced when the ice breaks up and begins to flow down the Yellowstone. That maintenance is necessary to the delivery of water during the growing season and for maintaining the dam’s integrity, but with litigation hanging over the diversion intake dam in Glendive, officials had indicated to LYIP Project Manager James Brower that there was some question as to whether the permit could be granted.

Last year’s permit had been given only in light of work being pursued on a fish passage, Brower said. Since the lawsuit stopped work on the fish passage, some officials had indicated there were questions as to whether the permit required for replacing displaced bouldes could still be granted.

However, the judge in the lawsuit had specifically said routine maintenance of the dam could and should continue while the legal matters are all being sorted out. LYIP officials had enlisted the aid of legislators to help in the matter.

Tester said he pressed the agencies involved to ensure that irrigators have access to water this planting season during an Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee last week.

“I do not know if Mother Nature will smile on these irrigators this summer so that they don’t need as much water,” Tester said. “But, without irrigation, these guys could literally lose the farm. If it was my operation and I was counting on irrigated yield to pay my bills, it would be very difficult to maintain that operation.”

“We’re going to do everything that we can to make sure that farmers get some help,” BOR Commissioner Lopez assured Tester.

Lopez said his agency is working with the Lower Yellowstone Board of Control to seek an extension of a permit that will allow continued rocking of the diversion weir. That is necessary to ensure that irrigators will have enough water.

This year’s ice jams are expected to be light, according to weather forecasters. However, Brower recalls another year where the ice was supposed to be light – 2013.

“2013 proved that nature doesn’t always react the way you would expect it to,” he recalled.

While the ice then was thin, thin ice tends to melt away from the bank and come down in larger sheets. Thicker ice, meanwhile, seems to get broken up into smaller pieces. Thus thin ice can still be quite problematic.

“In 2013, we didn’t have the permit to rock yet, and we ran short of water and couldn’t deliver all the water they needed, even though that was a thin ice event,” Brower said.

Brower said Senator Tester’s help was vital and appreciated.

“We are sincerely grateful for Senator Tester’s efforts to secure us a reliable irrigation to northeastern Montana,” he said. “The extension to the permit is necessary to deliver enough water to farmers in the 55,000 acres served by the diversion dam and to protect the dam from next year’s ice floes.”