The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation began diverting water from the St. Mary River to the Milk River via its newly repaired St. Mary Canal on Oct. 8. The canal is expected to operate for the remainder of October, then undergo its normal shutdown for the winter.

“The resumption of water diversions to the Milk River is a welcome sight for people living in the area. I’d like to thank residents in the Milk River area for their patience, irrigators for their flexibility and cooperation, our American counterparts for their work to repair the canal. I also want to recognize Environment and Parks staff for working hard to ensure irrigators and other stakeholders were kept informed and had access to as much water as possible.”

Jason Nixon, Minister of Environment and Parks

“This is great news for my constituents and for all those who have been affected by this structure failure. These repairs took a coordinated effort from those on both sides of the border. I was so impressed to see the engagement and active participation of the local mayors and reeves, Environment and Parks, and the federal government as they removed barriers on the Canadian side to help repair the diversionary canal in Montana. The team in the United States worked miracles to get the repairs done so quickly. It just goes to show what can be done when we all work together.”

Grant Hunter, MLA for Taber-Warner

“We are happy to see water once again flowing into the Milk River. In 2020, we experienced the river as our great-grandparents did prior to 1915, before the St. Mary River diversion was completed. Thanks to the quick actions and hard work by our American friends to repair the damaged structures, we can all rely on the water our basin’s towns, irrigators and fish need.”

John Ross, chair, Milk River Watershed Council Canada

On May 17, a concrete drop structure failed on the St. Mary Canal, which is located in northern Montana and owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The canal diverts water from the St. Mary River to the Milk River, which runs through southern Alberta.

The interruption in water diversion affected irrigators in late July but there were no impacts to drinking water or household use. Work to repair the canal was done throughout the summer. Repairs were paid for by U.S. officials.

Quick facts

  • Water use on both the St. Mary River and the Milk River is governed by the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909.
  • The accredited officers for the St. Mary and Milk rivers calculate natural flows and apportion them semi-monthly during the irrigation season. Canada is entitled to 25 per cent of the natural flow of the Milk River from April 1 until Oct. 31, the end of the irrigation season in the treaty.
  • U.S. water transfers from the St. Mary River diversion are not a part of the natural flow of the Milk River, though higher water levels make it easier for Canadian irrigators to access Canada’s share.  
  • The original St. Mary Canal was constructed between 1907 and 1915.

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