Phillips County News - One Nation, Under God

By Marko Manoukian
P.C. Extension Agent 

Interest cost on National Debt impacting investment in infrastructure including irrigation


February 14, 2018

The St. Mary Rehabilitation Working Group (SMRWG) met on January 30, 2018, to discuss the rehabilitation of the 100-year-old irrigation project. Lt. Governor Mike Cooney Co-Chair presided over the meeting. The SMRWG welcomed two replacement Board Members. Sara Swanson, of the Milk River Watershed Alliance from Glasgow, replaced Nancy Hines, and Greg Jorgenson, with the City of Chinook, replaced Gary Anderson. Except for Two Rivers Economic and Glacier County representative, the working group was full.

The SMRWG has $46,366 in local basin funds and $54,313 remaining in the first of Montana State Legislative Grants. The second grant remains at $300,000. Most recently the state grant has been used for completion of engineering design on Drop 2 in St. Mary. This grant funding from the State has assisted the Joint Board (JB) in repairing some of the assets on the project.

Gerald Lunak reported for the Blackfeet Tribe on their water compact. They are through negotiation and are working towards asking for an appropriation. They are also in negotiation with the Fort Belknap Tribe regarding water rights and first call. Kristal Fox for Fort Belknap Tribe referenced the negotiations and mentioned that the Bureau of Reclamation gave a presentation last week regarding their share of Fresno Reservoir Safety of Dams project, as the Tribe has 1/7 of the storage and costs associated with Fresno reservoir.

Jennifer Patrick, Project Manager reported for the JB on recent engineering studies taking place on Drop 2. The JB looked at a Drop consisting of a series of pipes to convey water versus a standard open concrete chute. The risks for water cavitating in the pipes and causing damage along with future O&M costs lead the JB to move forward on the open concrete chute concept. Patrick comment in a previous bid on Drop 2 work by Reclamation winter concrete came in around $3,200 a cubic yard with the overall chute fix being $2.68 million dollars. With the new JB proposal, the construction will be next to the old Drop and take place during the summer. The total cost of this proposal is estimated at a $1.2 million dollars and the engineering firm, HDR and the JB will oversee the entire project. Reclamation will be involved in a technical capacity, not day-to-day operations. The JB is also investigating the cost of increasing storage with a bladder or fixed structure on Fresno Reservoir, this was an early goal of the SMRWG.

On federal issues Marko Manoukian, Co-Chair of the St. Mary Working Group provided a handout with a chart created by the Peterson G. Peterson Foundation. Mr. Peterson was Secretary of Commerce under the Nixon administration and in 1992 became concerned for spending projections by the Federal Government based on mandatory spending and know demographics of the country. His continuing foundation has charted budget projections by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). It found that “under current law, CBO projects that net interest costs will more than double over the next 10 years, soaring from $270 billion in 2017 to $712 billion in 2026 and totaling $4.8 trillion over the period. Interest costs are expected to continue climbing beyond the next 10 years and are projected to be the third largest category in the federal budget by 2028 (after just Social Security and Medicare), the second largest category in 2046, and the single largest category in 2050”. A link to the document and chart can be found at

Manoukian continued that this does not lend any room for investment into young people, military protection, nor crumbling infrastructure. The largest growing program is health cost in the federal budget, but interest cost is the fastest growing number in the federal budget. The President and Congress are talking more about infrastructure needs and the SMRWG need to position itself in the path of that discussion. To that point, the SMRWG has had several discussions with their consulting firm Water Strategies and BOR on ways to invest in this aging system. Letters have been sent to Michael Black, Director of Great Plains Region US BOR and to Interior Secretary Zinke stating that if there are infrastructure packages developed by BOR, then St. Mary’s wants to be included.

The BOR report, by Steve Darlinton, that Fresno Safety of Dams review and mitigation is still going forward on Fresno Reservoir but will also analyze the effectiveness of increased storage on the reservoir for the JB. They also will be progressing to 60% design on the diversion dam and will host a review of the 1/10 model in Denver, February 13 and 14. Jennifer Patrick will be attending the review for the Working Group.

Allison Vergorent with Senator Daine's office reported that Steven Foster, assigned to the SMRWG has been involved with the phone discussions and the Legislative Director Will Curcko is looking for infrastructure avenues for the St. Mary project. Misty Kuhl Tribal Liaison/Field Representative for Congressman Greg Gianforte, introduced herself and noted the congressman was working on the project.

Lt. Governor Cooney report from the Drought Committee that most of Western Montana has good snow pack with St. Mary drainage at 98% of snow water equivalents now. There will be a Water Summit hosted by the state on March 6 and 7 p.m. at the Radisson in Helena. More information is available at

Sara Swanson reported that there will be a St. Mary/Milk River Summit in Glasgow February 13 – 14. It will include participation by people from Alberta that use St. Mary water. She also reported that the video the Milk River Watershed has been working on is not complete and she is looking for more participation from Tribal and business partners that depend on the St. Mary/Milk River water system.

The next meeting of the St. Mary Working Group will be March 19 at 10 a.m. at the Havre City Hall.


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