Tester, Daines Call for Hearing on St. Mary’s Reinvestment Act
Senators: “Without a significant federal investment, Montana’s agricultural economy, tribal communities, and towns are at risk of losing access to their water.”
U.S. Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines are calling on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) to hold a hearing on their St. Mary’s Reinvestment Act to make rehabilitating the St. Mary’s Diversion Dam more affordable.
In a letter to ENR Chair Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Ranking Member Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Tester and Daines said the project is critical to ensuring the Milk River Project can continue providing water to farmers, ranchers, and Tribes in Northcentral Montana that depend on it.
“The St. Mary’s Diversion Dam is the headworks of the Milk River Project, diverting water from the St. Mary’s River near Glacier National Park into the Milk River,” the Senators wrote.. “…This truly is the lifeblood of Montana’s Hi-Line, and this legislation is the critical next step to revitalizing this century-old water infrastructure project.”
The St. Mary’s Reinvestment Act will authorize $52 million to rehabilitate the St. Mary’s Diversion Dam, part of Bureau of Reclamation’s (BoR) Milk River Project in Northcentral Montana, and require the BoR to use an ability-to-pay study on what the current water users could afford to pay for the project and set the cost share for the rehabilitation based on that study.
Currently, water users on the Milk River Project cover 74 percent of operations and maintenance costs, but that funding structure is unsustainable for the hundreds of millions of dollars in needed rehabilitation across the project.
“Last year, a catastrophic failure at the drop structures downstream of the Diversion Dam underscored the pressing need to invest in this infrastructure,” the Senators continued. “Without a significant federal investment, Montana’s agricultural economy, tribal communities, and towns are at risk of losing access to their water.”
Tester agreed to introduce the St. Mary’s Reinvestment Act at the urging of the St. Mary’s working group last month, with Daines joining the legislation as an original cosponsor. Congressman Matt Rosendale introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives.
The Milk River Project provides water to 18,000 Montanans and irrigates enough cropland to feed one million people.