Tester Calls on Biden Administration to Include Milk River in Disaster Funding Package

Senator to President Biden: “It is critically important that resources are made available to begin this process without delay”

Following a major siphon burst on the Milk River Project near Babb, Montana, U.S. Senator Jon Tester today called on President Biden to include the Milk River Project in his Administration’s domestic supplemental package, which would make federal funding available to assist in the reconstruction of the St. Mary’s canal.

“While it is too early to know the overall effect this failure will have on irrigation, it is clear that this catastrophic failure will harm the farmers and ranchers that rely on the Milk River Project,” Tester wrote in a letter to President Biden. “Without that ability to convey water through the St. Mary’s canal, the irrigation season will end much earlier than anticipated.”

In his letter, Tester also called on the Administration to communicate directly with and provide support to Tribal leaders on the Blackfeet Reservation, where the incident occurred.

Tester continued, “The cost will be far too great for the local communities to meet the current cost-share requirements. Furthermore, this will not be a simple project to design and construct. As such, it is critically important that resources are made available to begin this process without delay.”

Yesterday, after the first siphon burst, Senator Tester called on the Biden Administration to provide immediate support for the local community, small businesses, and irrigators impacted by the failure, which caused thousands of gallons of water to flood the surrounding area. The siphon burst has already caused extensive damage to local businesses, and will impact vital irrigation to farmland in the surrounding area.

Tester has led the charge to fund the Milk River Project and water infrastructure projects across the state. 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’s canal. 

The first round of funding, $2.5 million, was announced in January and was used for planning and project design in 2022. Tester directly negotiated and wrote the provision of his legislation that provides up to $100 million to rehabilitate the Milk River Project, and in December 2020, he urged Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton to make the St. Mary’s diversion a top priority and get the resources out the door as quickly as possible.

Senator Tester is also leading the charge to secure an additional $275 million to rehabilitate the St. Mary’s canal through his FBIC Water Compact.

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

A full list of Montana provisions in Tester’s bipartisan infrastructure law can be found HERE.

You can read the Senator’s letter HERE.