Tester Secures Up To $100 Million for the Milk River Project

Senator secured historic funding that will not require local match in months-long infrastructure negotiations with bipartisan group of colleagues, White House

In a historic win for Montanans living and working on the Hi-Line, U.S. Senator Jon Tester today secured up to $100 million in dedicated funding to rehabilitate the Milk River Project as a part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework he recently negotiated with the White House and nine of his Republican and Democratic colleagues. The water infrastructure portion of the Framework, which was voted out of Committee today with a bipartisan majority, was directly negotiated by Tester.

“Today is a historic step forward in making long-overdue and critically needed investments in the Milk River Project and provide water certainty for folks living and working on the Hi-Line,” said Tester. “I’ve been working for months to get water infrastructure investments into the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework I negotiated with the President and my Republican and Democratic colleagues, and I’m glad my provisions were included in the package. Now it’s time we get this over the finish line, and I’m going to keep pushing to make sure the entire Milk River Project is rehabilitated, so that Montanans on the Hi-Line have access to the water they need for years to come.”

The funding will go directly to rehabilitating the St. Mary’s Diversion Dam and avert more failures like the drop structures last summer, while improving efficiency and reliability of the overall system. This funding in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework would be available without needing 3:1 nonfederal match, which is normally required for rehabilitation work on the Milk River Project. Tester also secured a separate provision allowing state and local recovery funding from the American Rescue Plan to be eligible to be used towards the nonfederal cost share of Bureau of Reclamation infrastructure like the Milk River Project.

Tester is a member of the core bipartisan infrastructure negotiation group along with Republican Senators Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Rob Portman, and Mitt Romney, and Democratic Senators Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, Jeanne Shaheen, and Mark Warner.

For more than a decade, Tester has led the fight to fund improvements to the Milk River Project. At the urging of the St. Mary’s working group, Tester has been the lead cosponsor of the St. Mary’s Reinvestment Act since 2018. In April, Tester urged the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to hold a hearing on his legislation, which would 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.

The Milk River Project irrigates over 120,000 acres and provides water to four municipalities, two rural water systems, and two Tribes.