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Proposed Repairs To Fresno Dam In Montana's Hi-Line Due To Safety Concerns

The public has until Sept 2 to comment on the Bureau of Reclamation’s draft environmental assessment on proposed modifications to Fresno Dam, a key part of the Milk River Project along Montana’s Hi-Line. The 82-year-old dam is aging and improvements are a priority.

A safety study of Fresno dam conducted a few years ago found the compacted earth-filled dam had failure risks from the settlement of the foundation of up to 10 feet as well as drainage and seepage collection deficiencies that need to be addressed.

Steve Darlinton is the project manager for the Fresno Dam modifications. He says it’s about reducing safety risks.

“While Reclamation is moving forward with modifying the dam for this issue there is no immediate threat to the public but rather the possibility of the failure event has risen above Reclamation’s public protection guidelines for taking action,” Darlinton said.

He says work will involve adding “state of the practice” sand filter to the downstream base and on top of that a gravel section and an additional abutment.

Darlinton says the work will not impact the water levels of Fresno Reservoir and those who depend on the water for irrigating 140-thousand acres of land in 8 irrigation districts and the Fort Belknap Indian Irrigation Project as well as drinking water for Havre, Chinook and Harlem.

“We specifically chose the alternative so it was the least amount of impact on the irrigators and municipalities,” Darlinton said.

The current cost estimate is $71 million dollars. Of that the federal government is responsible for 85 percent. Water users will make up the remaining 15 percent. Darlinton says repayment terms still need to be agreed upon, but users could have up to 50 years for repayment without interest.

Onsite work on the Fresno Dam improvement project could begin in early 2023.

Kay Erickson has been working in broadcasting in Billings for more than 20 years. She spent well over a decade as news assignment editor at KTVQ-TV before joining the staff at YPR. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University, with a degree in broadcast journalism. Shortly after graduation she worked in Great Falls where she was one of the first female sports anchor and reporter in Montana.