BREAKING: After Tester’s Urging, Biden Administration Agrees to Immediately Begin Emergency Repairs to St. Mary Canal Siphon

Bureau of Reclamation agreed to use emergency authority to loan funds to immediately begin rehabilitation work;

Action comes in response to calls from Tester, Montana congressional delegation

In direct response to pressure from U.S. Senator Jon Tester, the Biden Administration announced today they will immediately begin rehabilitation work along the Milk River Project following last month’s siphon burst. The Bureau of Reclamation, in response to Tester, agreed to fund the repairs through existing emergency authorities under Public Law 111-11.

“This is an important step forward for North Central Montana water users who rely on the Milk River Project to support their farm operations that feed the world and to keep their small businesses running,” said Tester. “I called on the Bureau of Reclamation to use their emergency authority to immediately begin repairs and I’m pleased that today they have committed to do so.  I’ll keep working to ensure the Administration continues to listen to the thousands of impacted Montanans living in North Central Montana who couldn’t wait another minute for this relief.”

Tester last week had called on the Bureau of Reclamation to use this existing authority to make the urgently-needed repairs.

Tester last month also called on President Biden to include the Milk River Project in his Administration’s domestic supplemental package, which would make federal funding available to pay for the reconstruction of the St. Mary Canal. The White House wrote in response to pressure from Tester that they are “committed to working with the Congress to address the recent breach of the St. Mary Canal Siphon near Babb, Montana.”

In addition to urging the Administration to include critical funding in its supplemental package, Tester last week took to the Senate floor to successfully pass his bipartisan Fort Belknap Indian Community (FBIC) Water Rights Settlement Act which would provide critical funding for repairs on the Milk River Project. Tester’s Fort Belknap Indian Community (FBIC) Water Rights Settlement Act will provide $1.3 billion to improve infrastructure and economic development for the Fort Belknap Indian Community and improve the efficiency of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Milk River Project, which furnishes water for the irrigation of about 121,000 acres of Tribal and non-Tribal land. The bill specifically includes $275 million to rehabilitate the St. Mary Canal. The bill will also restore Tribal management to 38,462 acres of state and federal land for the FBIC. 

Tester successfully passed the FBIC Water Compact through the Senate earlier this Congress as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but Speaker Mike Johnson and House Republicans stripped it from the final package.

Earlier this month, Tester announced that a more than $88 million contract was awarded to Montana-based NW Construction to complete the St. Mary Diversion Dam Replacement project. The contract is part of the up to $100 million Tester secured for the Milk River Project through his bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which he negotiated and helped pass into law. Tester was the only member of Montana’s Congressional delegation to support the legislation and to support additional improvements to the St. Mary Canal.