May 20, 2020 VOM Podcast

St. Mary’s Diversion Failure

The century-old St. Mary’s Diversion Works has failed.

Hydraulic Drop 5 collapsed May 17. It was the last piece of the 29-mile long mishmash of dams, siphons, head gates, tubes, and canals that divert water from the St Mary’s River eastward to the Milk River.

The diverted water irrigates more than 110,000 acres of crop land, feeds municipal water systems for Hi-line communities, and supplies water for popular recreation sites.

Montana DNRC Director John Tubbs, who has been a part of the twenty-year effort to rehabilitate the diversion works, said engineers and local officials have to act fast if they hope to supply water for the 2020 growing season, or, for that matter, the 2021 growing season.

The cost of the repairs is unknown, but it will largely fall on the farmers and ranchers of the local irrigation districts. Jeff Pattison, a Hi-line producer and Chair of the Milk River Watershed Alliance said the irrigators, who account for about one-fifth of the overall water usage, can’t afford to keep paying to repair the aging system.

Listen to the podcast as Director Tubbs, and Jeff Pattison join Tom Schultz to discuss the collapse, the next steps, and the on-going saga of the St. Mary’s Diversion.