Mar 30, 2017 Voices Of Montana 0 comment

Will Federal Dollars Be Pulled For New Intake Diversion Dam?

In 1904, with the urging of Teddy Roosevelt, The Lower Yellowstone Irrigation project was authorized by the Secretary of Interior to build a rock and timber diversion dam that spans the length of the Yellowstone River near Glendive, Montana.


photo by Wiki Commons

The diversion dam was finished in 1905 and furnished water to crops on the dry barren plains of Eastern Montana. The weir diverts water into a canal for irrigation of crops including wheat, malt barley, and sugar beets.

Let’s fast forward to the 1990’s when the pallid sturgeon (an ancient, endangered fish) was declared by the US Fish and Wildlife service to be endangered because the fish is now having difficulty getting past the diversion dam to spawn.

In 2010, a rock ramp was purposed by Fish, Wildlife & Parks and began operation in 2012. Then, new information on Pallid Sturgeons came to light and a new planning effort was begun to reexamine the rock ramp.

In 2015, an alternate bypass channel was chosen that would not only protect the Sturgeon, but also make big improvements to existing irrigation infrastructure.

The Defenders of Wildlife filed a lawsuit claiming the government agencies has failed to comply with the endangered species act in operating these dams. As a result of the injunction, construction on the new fish bypass has been halted.

Now, all federal funding could be pulled and the people of Montana would still be obligated to comply with the endangered species act. This means Montanans will still be responsible for fish passage even without federal funding assistance.

pallid sturgeon 2

photo by Wiki Commons

A hearing is scheduled on April 5 where the judge will review whether the injunction should be lifted to allow the 2015 alternate bypass channel that was originally agreed upon to be constructed. The hearing is open to the public and is scheduled in Great Falls, April 5th at 1:30 pm at the Missouri River Federal Courthouse, at 125 Central Avenue West.

According to project manager of the Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Project, James Brower, “If we are forced to divert the irrigation water, then drinking water will dry up for three towns and more than 58,000 acres of farmland.”

Listen to the entire interview with James Brower and President of Stockman Bank in Sidney, Garth Kallevig right here.

Jon Arneson