Tester, Daines Push for Hearing on Bipartisan St Mary’s Rehabilitation Legislation

U.S. Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines today urged the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) to hold a hearing on their St. Mary’s Reinvestment Act, which will provide critical resources to North Central Montana and 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 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.

“St. Mary’s Diversion Dam is the keystone of the Milk River Project, which provides water for over 121,000 irrigated acres, and provides water for four municipalities, two rural water systems, and the Fort Belknap Indian Community,” wrote Tester and Daines. “…Our bill builds on the $100 million for rehabilitation in the bipartisan infrastructure package to provide targeted funding for rehabilitating the St. Mary’s Diversion Dam, the highest priority piece of the Milk River Project for rehabilitation. Past rehabilitation efforts have stalled due to the current 74 percent nonfederal costshare for rehabilitation work on the Milk River Project. In response, our legislation sets the costshare for water users on an ability-to-pay study conducted by Bureau of Reclamation, setting the price tag for the remaining rehabilitation needs on what water users can actually afford.”

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.

“Advancing this legislation, which has been a bipartisan priority for Montana’s delegation for years, will provide critical support to rehabilitating water infrastructure that is integral to supporting agricultural producers, Tribal water rights, meeting international commitments, and mitigating the impacts of the ongoing drought in north central Montana,” the Senators concluded.

The Milk River Project provides water to 18,000 Montanans and irrigates enough cropland to feed one million people.

Text of the St. Mary’s Reinvestment Act is available HERE, and the Senators’ letter is available HERE.