Havre Daily News: Major funding coming to regional water system

by Tim Leeds

Another major water project is receiving a large chunk of funding courtesy of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester announced in a press release that Rocky Boy’s/North Central Montana Regional Water System will receive $57.5 million, part of $101.5 million of the first round in investments from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act which he helped craft.

“These rural water systems are essential to growing communities and creating jobs in central and eastern Montana,” Tester said. “I wrote this bipartisan legislation so that these long-delayed infrastructure projects can finally be completed and we can provide long-term water certainty for folks across our state. I’m going to keep holding the administration accountable to getting these targeted investments out the door and into communities as quickly as possible so we can growing our state’s rural economy.”

The Musselshell-Judith Rural Water System and the Fort Peck Reservation/Dry Prairie Rural Water System are also part of the funding.

The Rocky Boy’s regional water system began in 1997 when the Chippewa Cree Tribe and the state negotiated a water rights claim that allocated 10,000 acre feet from Tiber Reservoir, also known as Lake Elwell, to the tribe. The Montana Legislature and later Congress ratified the agreement which was signed into law in 1999 by President Bill Clinton. The project which was meant to supply water to the reservation soon expanded to other communities.

President George W. Bush signed in 2002 the Rocky Boy’s/North Central Montana Regional Water System Act that authorized the design and construction of the project.

The project includes a treatment plant at Tiber, a pumping plant for Rocky Boy, a core water line to transport water to the reservation and non-core projects to transport water to the participating communities off the reservation.

Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation says on its web page for the project that participating water systems are: Town of Big Sandy, City of Cut Bank, City of Havre, Town of Dutton, City of Shelby, Town of Sunburst, Town of Kevin, City of Conrad, Town of Chester, Brady County Water District, North Havre County Water District, Sweetgrass County Water District, Hill County Water District, Loma County Water District, Oilmont County Water District, Sage Creek County Water District, South Chester County Water District, Tiber County Water District, Devon Water, Inc., Galata County Water District, Riverview Colony and Eagle Creek Colony.

The project, originally authorized at $228 million in 2002, has received small chunks of funding in most years when members of Montana’s congressional delegation would add funding.

Some of the completed projects include connecting some water systems to allow them to access treated water, which will then be connected to the regional system once the treatment plant is complete.

Work on that treatment plant started in 2017.

The $57.5 million from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will not allow completion of the project, but will allow work to progress.

Tester was one of the bipartisan group of senators who negotiated the act and helped pass it into law last year, and he specifically secured the provision that includes the investments for Montana rural water projects.

Tester was the only member of Montana’s Congressional delegation to support the bipartisan legislation.

Along with the $57.5 million for the Rocky Boy’s/North Central Montana Regional Water System to support continuing the build-out of the system which includes core and non-core pipeline segments and the water treatment plant, the act also provides:

• $37 million for the Musselshell-Judith Rural Water System to support phase 2 of the rural water distribution network, which will ultimately serve six incorporated communities, several unincorporated communities, and many rural families in central Montana.

• $7 million for the Fort Peck Reservation/Dry Prairie Rural Water System to support continued advancement of the Fort Peck Reservation Western project distribution pipelines.

The funding is the first round of $1 billion in total funding to complete all authorized rural water projects through the Bureau of Reclamation. In total in the IIJA, Tester secured approximately $194 million for the Rocky Boy’s/North Central Water System, approximately $56 million for the Musselshell-Judith Water System, and approximately $17 million for the Fort Peck/Dry Prairie Water System.

He also secured, up to $100 million for rehabilitating the Milk River Project including the St. Mary Diversion and Conveyance works, and he announced $85 million of that funding earlier last week.

Tester worked across the aisle for months to negotiate his bipartisan package with a group of five Republicans, four Democrats and the White House, his office said in a press release, and he was the only member of Montana’s congressional delegation to vote for it. The law is projected to create more than 800,000 American jobs and lower costs for businesses by making targeted investments that will strengthen the nation without raising taxes on working families.

Tester secured significant wins for Montana in the legislation, the release added, including $2.82 billion for Montana’s roads, highways and bridges; $2.5 billion to complete all authorized Indian water rights settlements; $42.45 billion for broadband deployment to low-connectivity areas across the country; and $3.37 billion to reduce wildfire risk nationwide, among others. Tester also worked to ensure that all iron, steel and construction materials used for these projects must be made in America.