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Gianforte visits Billings irrigation canal, calls on lawmakers to pass disaster emergency fund

Gov. Greg Gianforte speaks during a news conference under the Billings Rims
Orlinda Worthington
Yellowstone Public Radio
Gov. Greg Gianforte speaks during a news conference under the Billings Rims

Leaders in Yellowstone County, along with Gov. Gianforte, say an irrigation canal that runs through Billings is at risk of flooding – and they’re calling on state legislators to fund repairs.

Yellowstone County Disaster and Emergency Services Coordinator KC Williams says there’s an imminent risk of slope failure causing the ditch to flood an area of north Billings.

“With the full volume of the ditch flowing at an average of 400 cubic feet a second that's roughly 260 million gallons of water that would be dumped into the neighborhood below," Williams said, "which puts us at significant risk of loss of life, obvious loss of property and infrastructure stuff."

Gianforte toured the area Wednesday and said canal repairs could qualify for funding under House Bill 269, establishing a local disaster emergency fund. But that bill is stalled in the House Appropriations Committee.

That's why our budget for Montana families includes 100 million in a disaster mitigation fund," Gianforte said. "This comes out of our state's surplus, and it would allow us to use an ounce of prevention rather than waiting for a disaster and have to clean up afterwards.”

The canal is operated by the private, nonprofit group the Billings Bench Water Association. They say there are no immediate plans for any ditch repairs.

Orlinda Worthington hosts “Morning Edition” weekdays on YPR. She brings 20 years of experience as Montana television news anchor, producer, and reporter.