By Gillian Slade
Alta Newspaper Group – Medicine Hat
A structure on the St. Mary Canal in Montana failed in May and is being repaired, and it will require some focus on water usage in parts of southern Alberta.
“With no canal in place, water licence holders in Alberta should be prepared for only natural flows on the Milk River throughout the summer and should proactively explore options for water conservation,” read an Alberta Environment and Parks press release.
Jason Penner, communications for Alberta Environment, says water licence holders in the Milk River basin affected by the damaged infrastructure in Montana are mostly agricultural producers. St. Mary River Irrigation District in Lethbridge and Bow Island did not provide comment Tuesday to clarify whether its customers are impacted.
Penner, however, says farmers connected to the St. Mary River Irrigation District canal system are not affected by the infrastructure failure. The St. Mary canal in Montana (the infrastructure that is damaged) diverts water from the St. Mary River to the Milk River.
The infrastructure that failed in Montana is referred to as a “concrete drop structure” in the government’s press release.
“The concrete drop structures use gravity and siphons to convey water through the 29-mile St. Mary Canal to the North Fork of the Milk River,” said Penner.
SMRID has three licences to divert water from the St. Mary, Waterton and Belly rivers, and on average only diverts about half the total licence, according to its website. One of the licences allows not only water for irrigation but for other uses such as municipal, industrial, recreational and environmental.
“Almost all the reservoirs within the SMRID system are used for recreational purposes, including boating and fishing; amongst those are Sauder (rattlesnake), Forty Mile and Stafford reservoirs, which are very heavily used and both have public camping and boat launch facilities,” the SMRID website states.
The provincial government says recreational users will be impacted until the repair is completed in Montana.
“Without diverted water via the St. Mary Canal, Milk River water levels will likely be too low this summer for activities like canoeing or kayaking.”