Funding for Hi-Line water projects advances

Great Falls Tribune

by Kim Skornogoski

Three large-scale Hi-Line water projects could see a large cash infusion as funding for the multimillion projects cleared a key committee Thursday.

The Energy and Water Appropriations Act includes $5 million for the Rocky Boy’s/North Central Montana Regional Water Authority, $3.78 million for the St.

Mary’s Canal Rehabilitation Project and $6 million for the Fort Peck/Dry Prairie Rural Water System.

“All three of these projects will help rebuild Montana’s economy by creating jobs and strengthening our basic water infrastructure,” Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said.

“Ensuring access to clean, reliable water is one of the most important investments we can make in rural America.”

Tester is a member of the subcommittee that drafted the bill, which funds innovative energy research and water projects. He also is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which passed the bill Thursday.

The Energy and Water Appropriations Act, which is one of 12 appropriation bills that will fund the federal government for the next fiscal year, still must pass the full Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.

Originally estimated to cost $230 million, the northcentral Montana project aims to build a treatment plant at Lake Elwell near Chester and deliver water to 22 public water systems en route to the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation.

Five communities currently are  under boil orders because their water quality doesn’t meet state and federal standards. Project planners hope to reach one of those communities, North Chester, this summer.

An infusion of $20 million in federal stimulus money doubled the total funding the project has received since it was authorized in 2002. The stimulus money made it possible to proceed on one of the most expensive pieces of the project, a water treatment facility.

Approximately 50,000 people will get clean water from the system once the project is completed.

Having received $17 million in general fund money, in addition to $40 million in stimulus money last year, the Fort Peck/Dry Prairie Project is further along toward its goal of delivering treated water from the Missouri River to northeastern Montana, including the Fort Peck Indian Reserva-tion.

Earlier this summer, pipe was laid as far as Nashua.

Once finished, the $275 million project will provide water for about 28,000 people in Valley, Daniels, Sheridan and Roosevelt counties. Project managers hope to deliver water to Poplar by June 2011.

The $140 million rehabilitation of the St. Mary’s Canal would rebuild the aging water canal, which delivers water from the Milk River to northcentral Montana.

“We need to keep doing our part to see each of these projects through to the end — which will create jobs and boost Montana’s economy,” Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said. Tester and Baucus noted the allocation is not additional federal spending, but rather an order directing government agencies how to spend their current budgets.