Sidney Herald: Daines seeks LYIP language

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., will seek legislative text during the next session to ensure farmers served by the Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Project do not pay the increased costs of making the Glendive Intake Diversion dam more fish friendly. 

Daines is on the Senate Committee on Appropriations and the subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies, among several others.

The diversion dam in Glendive serves 58,000 acres of cropland in the MonDak, including 18,500 acres on the North Dakota side. It is seen by many in the area as critical to the future of farmers in the region, as well as to the continued operation of Sidney Sugars, a beet processing plant. 

Daines spoke about the matter on a recent visit to the MonDak that included a stop to visit Sidney Sugars, which is in the midst of beet harvest, as well as the Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Project, where he received an update from LYIP Project Manager James Brower.

“It was good to stand right there on the platform looking at the diversion with James,” Daines said. “The proposed plan seems very common sense to me for that bypass, which will be 16 percent of flow from the Yellowstone and a 150-foot notch cut in the middle of the diversion to ensure pallid sturgeon can pass through. It’s a sound plan that ensures they get the water they need that they’ve had for generations, and at the same time, protects the fish species.”

While Daines feels protecting the fish is important, he also believes it is important to protect farmers in the region, particularly as two environmental groups have proposed changes that would be far more expensive than what farmers are paying for now.

“Their cost is about $2 million a year today, and if there need to be additional remedies to help pallids, the farmers should not bear that expense,” Daines said.

The pallid sturgeon was listed as an endangered species in 1990, and studies to improve the fish friendliness of the Intake Diversion Dam began not long afterward, along with an overall recovery plan for the pallid sturgeon that looks at both the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

The Corps of Engineers was about to build a fish bypass channel for the Glendive diversion dam when two environmental groups filed suit, successfully arguing there was no proof the proposed fish bypass channel would work and that the federal agencies involved should have done a more indepth analysis that included the option of removing the dam altogether and pumping water out to farmers.

That alternative would cost a minimum of $10 million dollars, and another $15 million with added conservation measures, according to the revised study. The Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation have concluded the fish bypass channel is still the most cost effective measure for both ensuring safe fish passage and delivering reliable water.