Tester Secures $43.5 Million to Upgrade Fresno Dam, Make Progress on Milk River Project

Funding will come from the FY23 government funding package; Senator was the only member of the Montana delegation to support funding

U.S. Senator Jon Tester today secured $43,599,090 from the Bureau of Reclamation’s (BoR) Dam Safety Program to upgrade the Milk River’s Fresno Dam. Bozeman-based NW Construction has been awarded the contract and will begin the dam modification project next month. 

Tester was the only member of the Montana congressional delegation to vote for the Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) Omnibus Appropriations Package, which included $182,561,000 for dam safety.

“As third-generation farmer, I know how important it is to invest in our infrastructure for rural Montana,” said Tester. “Modernizing the Fresno Dam will guarantee a more efficient and reliable water supply for rural communities across northern Montana, a safer environment for fish and wildlife, and better protection from natural disasters like floods. I’m proud to have secured the funding to get this project off the ground, and look forward to working with the Bureau of Reclamation and the Milk River Joint Board of Control to keep making progress on the Milk River Project.”

Tester has been Montana’s leading champion for the Milk River Project and water infrastructure projects across the state. In 2021, in a historic win for Montanans living and working on the Hi-Line, Tester secured up to $100 million in dedicated funding to rehabilitate the Milk River Project as a part of his bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). The funding will go directly toward rehabilitating the St. Mary’s Diversion Dam and averting system failures, while improving the efficiency and reliability of the overall system. 

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 BoR infrastructure like the Milk River Project.

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 of 2021, 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 BoR’s 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.