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St. Mary/Milk River Irrigation Project called "A Canary in the Coal Mine" in an Important Senate Hearing on US Crumbling Infrastructure


August 21, 2019

The St. Mary/Milk River Irrigation Project in a Senate hearing June 26, 2019 S.1305 - St. Mary's Reinvestment Act

was introduced as S. 1305 as St. Mary’s Reinvestment Act sponsored by Senator Jon Tester and Supported by Senator Steve Daines In the hearing, Kiel Weaver, Department of Interior’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science testified and referred to the St. Mary/Milk River project as the “Canary in the Coal Mine” for US infrastructure. While this was a welcomed recognition of the deteriorated condition of the irrigation system, Interior did not like the inclusion of transferred assets in the legislation and testified against S. 1305. Assets like Vandalia Dam, Dodson Pumps, Dodson Dam, canals and conveyance system from the eight irrigation districts, Paradise Diversion Dam to mention a few. With recent dam infrastructures failures, the “Canary” may already be dead:

• 2016 Lake Woods gate failure, Texas, Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority Owner

• 2019 Lake Dunlap gate failure, Texas, Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority Owner

• 2019 Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation Tunnel collapse, Bureau of Reclamation Owner

The two lake gate failures are part of a system that was built in 1930 With cost estimates for repairs between $15 and $45 million per gate system. The Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation Tunnel collapse irrigates 100,000 acres of crops on the border of Wyoming and Nebraska. The irrigation canal, near Laramie Wyoming, collapsed and backed up water breaching the canal upstream. The construction on the tunnel is 102 years old. These two projects are eerily like the St. Mary/Milk River Project in terms of outdated infrastructure.

In a March 6, 2019 House Ways and Means hearing on “Our Nation’s Crumbling Infrastructure and the Need for Immediate Action” ( some glaring faults in our infrastructure were provided by those testifying including the House Transportation Committee Chair and Ranking member and the American Civil Engineers Society to mention a few. Here are some of the bullet points in the three-hour hearing.

• The Highway Trust Fund is underfunded $16 billion annually

• Every two minutes a water main breaks in the US, spilling over 2 trillion gallons of drinking water, enough water to fill the Empire State Building seven-thousand times

• To raise the US grade for Infrastructure from a D+ to a B would require a $2 trillion investment. Another $2 trillion would be needed for the US to join the 21st Century.

So, as we continue to move forward on the St. Mary/Milk River Project we first hope that a failure does not take place anywhere in our system. Second, we will continue to work with our Congressional delegation and Bureau of Reclamation to reevaluate the current language in S.1305 in the hopes that it becomes palatable to Interior to support the legislation or at the very least not adamantly speak out in objection to.


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