By Jensen, Randy on September 30, 2020.
With the race to complete work before winter, U.S. authorities are aiming to have water running through the St. Mary River Diversion project back into the Milk River by mid-October.
“Construction work continues on Drops 2 and 5,” confirmed Montana Area Manager Steve Davies of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in a statement released to The Herald. “Drop 2 is nearly complete with work there focusing on the transition inlet from the canal to the structure. Final concrete placements at Drop 5 are now scheduled in early October. Water operations are currently scheduled to begin following the last concrete placement at Drop 5, possibly around Oct. 9.”
“This could be earlier or later depending on weather impacts to construction,” he added.
The Milk River has been reduced to natural flow only since the Drop 5 structure in Whiskey Gap failed back in May; thereby prematurely ending the local agricultural irrigation season and forcing residents of the Town of Milk River and the Villages of Coutts and Sweetgrass into emergency water conservation mode for much of the summer.
Mayor Peggy Losey of Milk River said the community recently eased some of those rationing restrictions after an engineering study of the Town’s reservoir, which also supplies both Coutts and Sweetgrass, said there was enough water to get through the winter. Still, Losey was hopeful freeze up would be delayed this year so they could get some water flowing through the Milk River by the Oct. 9 date projected by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
“As long as the weather holds and they can run water, that would be wonderful,” she confirmed. “They have had a few delays and they are obviously about a week and a half behind, because they planned on being done at the end of September.”
The Town’s reservoir sits at about 80 per cent of capacity, Losey confirmed. However, she equated her town’s current water situation to someone living in rural Alberta with only a half-full tank of gas in winter. It might be sufficient, she said, but prudence dictates it is still better to fill up before heading down the icy highway toward Lethbridge.
“The engineers’ math says we have enough water to last us until March, and I am starting to get comfortable with that,” Losey stated, “but I still feel like my tank is half empty and I need to fill it. It would be wonderful to see water flowing through that river again prior to winter.”
For his part, Coutts Mayor Jim Willett credited the focused work by officials on both sides of the border with getting the replacement of the drop structures done so quickly, and thanked both provincial and federal representatives on behalf of his residents for the efforts amidst this crisis.
“There have been some massive concrete pours there, and I think everything is going well,” he said. “The fact (U.S. engineers) were able to draw product, concrete, crushed gravel and so on, from Canada and get it across the border quickly made a big difference, I think, in their progress.”
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