OPINION: Stimulus money well-spent on pair of water projects

Great Falls Tribune

Economic growth has a variety of components. Come to think of it, so does economic survival.

Economists would list a number of essentials, probably including such things as need, opportunity, material, demand, supply and so on.

But some components are so basic that even economists take them for granted.
In our part of the world, one such component is water.

Not just water to fuel industry, or to grow crops. We're talking real basic: water to drink.
That's why it was such great news to see that a chunk — $60 million — of the federal Bureau of Reclamation's $950 million in stimulus funds nationwide will go to give a multi-year boost to two big Montana water projects: the Fort Peck/Dry Prairie project in the northeastern corner of the state, and the Rocky Boy's Northcentral Montana project north of here.

Both projects have big price tags but have been limping along for several years with relatively small year-to-year appropriations.

The Northcentral Montana project will build a treatment plant at Lake Elwell near Chester, then deliver water to a dozen or more communities along the way to watering the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation south of Havre. The $20 million in stimulus money more than doubles the money it has received since work began four years ago.

The Dry Prairie project involves a treatment plant near Wolf Point and, eventually, a pipeline system to deliver water along the Hi-Line from Culbertson almost to Glasgow, and northward to Opheim and Plentywood.

Its $40 million allocation from the stimulus package should complete the water plant and get the lines running from Wolf Point westward, possibly as far as St. Marie north of Glasgow.

Both projects are already planned, so they easily met the so-called "shovel-ready" requirements for stimulus spending.

"This money pushed us forward three years," said Clint Jacobs, manager for the nontribal portion of the Dry Prairie project.

The money will "start the process of a lifelong dream for many to have reliable drinking water on the reservation and the communities along the way," said Bruce Sunchild, Chippewa Cree councilman on the Rocky Boy's Reservation.

Also along the way, the projects will provide scores of jobs — a primary aim of the stimulus package.