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Montana rural water projects awaiting federal infrastructure money

$10M available now; more later
St. Mary water.jpg
Posted at 4:33 PM, Dec 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-15 11:10:05-05

HELENA — The federal infrastructure bill passed by Congress last month has millions of dollars to help finish five big rural-water and irrigation projects in Montana — but on four of them, the actual amount is yet to be known, a Gianforte administration official said Tuesday.

The four rural-water projects in central and northeastern Montana also want lawmakers and the Gianforte administration to release $10 million allocated for them from the COVID-19 relief bill approved by Democrats in March, said Amanda Kaster.

Kaster, director of the state Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC), told a legislative commission that directors of the water systems would like to address the commission next month about the importance of the $10 million.

If the ARPA Infrastructure Advisory Commission recommends releasing the money, the Gianforte administration can make it available to the water projects. Kaster said the $10 million hasn’t been transmitted to the projects yet because the administration wanted to see what happened with the federal infrastructure bill.

That measure has $1 billion nationwide to complete rural water projects, but the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is still working on guidance to rank the projects and determine how much they will get, she said.

The Montana projects are Fort Peck-Dry Prairie and Dry Redwater in northeast Montana, Rocky Boy in north-central Montana, and Musselshell-Judith Basin in central Montana. Most of the projects began 15 to 20 years ago, but have yet to be completed.

The infrastructure bill also included $100 million that is specifically for the rehabilitation of the St. Mary irrigation project in north-central Montana.