Worries continue for Milk River water levels

Water levels in the Milk River as it passes through southern Alberta continue to drop due to issues with irrigation infrastructure on the American side of the border.

A canal drop structure northwest of Cutbank, Montana, collapsed May 17 and its failure eliminates the method to divert water from the St. Mary River into the Milk.

Tim Romanow, executive director of the Milk River Watershed Council, said there was no new information about the status of any repairs but an update scheduled June 10 with the International Joint Commission personnel, was expected to provide more data. The commission is the body that governs international water issues.

Romanow said Alberta Environment and Parks as well as the Montana government have “a steadfast commitment to ensure we are adaptive and resolve the immediate problems with the St. Mary diversion and long-standing water security concerns that are facing our community.”

Alberta Environment has advised that flow in the Milk River will depend on natural means until repairs

can be made. That natural flow is supported by rain and groundwater but is seldom enough to meet all needs, particularly in late summer. The Milk could potentially run dry without diversion from the St. Mary.

“Analysis of historical estimated natural flows show that there is a 50 percent probability that flows will exceed two cubic metres per second through to the end of June and a 75 percent probability that they will exceed one cubic metre per second as measured at the Milk River… flow station. Even less flow is expected to occur in July,” Alberta Environment said in a memo provided by Romanow.

The department said it planned to hold a teleconference with water users soon if it obtained more information about the pending repair.

Romanow said rain on the weekend would likely buy some time for farmers who irrigate from the Milk River and would at least temporarily ease concerns about potential danger to fish and other aquatic life in the river.

The structure failure in Montana is in a remote area, which may be hindering repair plans.

About 8,200 acres on the Canadian side of the international border are irrigated from the Milk River and 93,000 acres of farmland are reliant upon it on the American side.

The Milk River also supplies municipal water to the town of Milk River and villages of Coutts and Sweetgrass.

Contact barb.glen@producer.com

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