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Environment & Science

Collapsed Drop On St. Mary Canal To Be Replaced

A photo of the collapse of Drop 5 in the St. Mary Canal taken in mid-May 2020.
Karl Christians
Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation
The aftermath of St. Mary Canal Drop 5 after it collapsed on May 17, 2020.

Plans are in the works to permanently repair a major Montana Hi-Line water system that collapsed last month.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Milk River Project St. Mary Canal is a water lifeline for the Blackfeet and Fort Belknap Reservations and other communities along the Hi-Line, as well as recreation, wildlife habitats and irrigators. On May 17 the water stopped flowing when Drop 5, a concrete drop structure north of Cut Bank, collapsed.

An inspection by the Bureau of Reclamation, Montana’s Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) and the Milk River Joint Board of Control on May 27 decided the structure could not be fixed. They determined Drop 5 as well as Drop 2, another high risk drop structure, needed to be immediately replaced.

The Milk River Joint Board of Control and DNRC are in charge of the construction to be performed by Sletten Construction. It takes place on the Blackfeet Reservation, so complete cultural clearance and permitting must be concluded by the tribe before construction can begin.

The goal is to have everything completed by late summer. A price tag has not been announced.

The Milk River Project is over 100 years old and is among the oldest of the Bureau of Reclamation’s infrastructures. It has been the focus for decades of past and present members of Montana’s Congressional Delegation trying to secure federal funding for repair of the aging system.