Gianforte Urges President Trump to Act Quickly to Fix St. Mary Canal
Following the failure of Drop 5 of the St. Mary Canal and Conveyance Works system on Sunday, Congressman Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) today urged President Trump to take action to ensure it is repaired as quickly as possible.
“I encourage you to take swift action to engage with the Milk River Joint Control Board to fix Drop 5 as quickly as possible,” Gianforte wrote in a letter to the president. “This project is over 100 years old and in dire need of a full upgrade. Fixing this drop structure will allow the project to continue moving water for the upcoming irrigation season. Without this repair, Montanans across the Hi-Line will soon turn on their faucets and no water will come out.”
Gianforte emphasized the importance of a functioning water system. The project provides water for the Blackfeet Nation, the Fort Belknap Indian Community, and many towns along the Hi-Line. The system provides water to over 121,000 acres of irrigatable land.
If the system does not function, Gianforte wrote, it “would be disastrous for Montana’s farmers and ranchers as well as our overall economy.” The system’s failure “will jeopardize the upcoming irrigation season for over 18,000 water users on the system,” Gianforte wrote to President Trump.
Gianforte identifies the St. Mary Diversion Dam as the most critical infrastructure in the state and has sponsored bipartisan legislation to address the project’s cost-sharing structure. Since beginning to serve Montana in 2017, he has urged federal action to improve and maintain the Milk River project.
Gianforte’s full letter to President Trump follows and may be found HERE:
May 18, 2020
The Honorable Donald J. Trump
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear President Trump:
On Sunday, May 17, 2020, Drop 5 of the St. Mary Canal and Conveyance Works system in northwest Montana had a catastrophic failure, which will jeopardize the upcoming irrigation season for over 18,000 water users on the system. Furthermore, the project provides water for the Blackfeet Nation, the Fort Belknap Indian Community, and many towns along the Hi-Line. Given the current crisis and concerns regarding our nation’s food supply, losing over 121,000 acres of irrigatable land would be disastrous for Montana’s farmers and ranchers as well as our overall economy. I urge swift action to repair Drop 5 and encourage your Administration to take a closer look at the cost share of the overall project.
For over 100 years, the St. Mary Canal and Conveyance Works has augmented the Milk River Basin water supply. The Bureau of Reclamation built this system to provide supplemental irrigation water along the Milk River, but it has evolved into a multi-use project which provides water for municipalities, recreation enthusiasts and wildlife habitats. This critical water supply accounts for 70 percent of annual average Milk River flows during the irrigation season, and as high as 95 percent during severe drought when natural flows in the Milk River can be reduced to zero.
Since I was first elected to Congress, I have consistently said that this was the most important infrastructure project in the state, because many components of the St. Mary’s facilities have exceeded their design life and are in dire need of repair or replacement. As recently as the beginning of March, I was in front of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee advocating for much needed repairs to the project. I will continue to push for funding on the whole project, but right now, we must immediately fix Drop 5.
Further compounding the issue, the St. Mary’s users have a 75 percent cost share of any rehabilitation on the project, one of the highest cost shares among Bureau of Reclamation projects. I have introduced legislation to address this challenge, but it has not passed out of committee. I ask you to revisit the cost share for this project and act to correct it, if possible, via immediate executive action.
Again, I encourage you to take swift action to engage with the Milk River Joint Control Board to fix Drop 5 as quickly as possible. This project is over 100 years old and in dire need of a full upgrade. Fixing this drop structure will allow the project to continue moving water for the upcoming irrigation season. Without this repair, Montanans across the Hi-Line will soon turn on their faucets and no water will come out. I have attached photos of the Drop 5 failure.
I remain committed to work with you to find a quick, effective, and lasting solutions for the St. Mary’s Drop 5 and for the overall rehabilitation of the project to avoid crises like this from happening again.
On May 12, 2020, Gianforte urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to address the nation’s critical water needs in any infrastructure package.
In March 2020, the St. Mary’s Rehabilitation Working Group and the Milk River Joint Board thanked Gianforte for his support and his efforts to have the St. Mary Diversion Dam rehabilitated.
In February 2020, Gianforte testified before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee about including the St. Mary Diversion Dam in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2020.
In May 2019, Gianforte introduced bipartisan legislation to ensure that the federal government picks up 75 percent of the costs for upgrades to the century-old water project. Currently, the federal government only funds 26 percent of the project, leaving local users with the responsibility to pay the rest of the tab.
In April 2018, Gianforte wrote to the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation in support of the Milk River Project Joint Board of Control’s grant proposal to replace Drop 2.
At an April 2018 congressional hearing, Gianforte secured a commitment from Dr. Timothy Petty, Assistant Interior Secretary, that he will work to ensure a cost share agreement with Montana is reached to rehabilitate the St. Mary Diversion Dam and Conveyance Works.
In March 2018, Gianforte asked House appropriations leaders to fund work on the St. Mary system.