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Key vote on funding for northern Montana's St. Mary Canal occurs Friday

Key vote on funding for northern Montana's St. Mary Canal occurs Friday

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Money for the severely damaged St. Mary Canal will received a key vote Friday in the U.S. House.

Portions of the canal, on which Hi-Line residents depend for irrigation and drinking water, collapsed in May, prompting a scramble to get water flowing again.

Thursday, the U.S. House amended $25 million for Bureau of Reclamation canal repairs into the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., made the amendment.

The House is expected to pass the Energy and Water Development Related Appropriations Act on Friday. Gianforte’s request for canal repair funding is two years older than the recent collapse. The Montana canal has been in disrepair for decades, leaking water along its nearly 30-mile path as it diverts water from the St. Mary River on the Blackfeet Reservation to the Milk River. The canal was built in 1915 by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, during a period when the federal government was building infrastructure to water to support Western agriculture and settlements.

Once the water reaches the Milk, it travels for roughly 400 miles. Along the way more than 800 farmers and several small communities utilize it.

“The repairs of the St. Mary canal are critical for the communities and irrigators along the Hi-Line, and this funding is key to rebuilding and improving the canal,” Gianforte said. “There’s more to do to address Montana’s most critical infrastructure project. I’ll continue working to get the project the support it needs and shift the cost burden off the shoulders of local water users and to the federal government.”

A comprehensive repair of the canal would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. The House vote would provide funding for immediate repairs worth a few million.

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