Thank you for your willingness to schedule this important hearing here in Havre. My name is Robert E. Rice and I have had the opportunity to serve as Mayor of this fine community for approximately the past five years. On behalf of not only the City of Havre, but the communities of Chinook, Harlem, Dodson and Malta to the East, and Kremlin, Gilford, Hingham, Rudyard and Inverness to the West, who all receive their drinking water from the Milk River, which is fed by the St. Mary Diversion and Conveyance Works, we sincerely appreciate the special effort you are taking today to more fully understand and appreciate the importance of this century-old federal facility to the health, welfare and economic well-being of a large section of northern Montana.
When you think of this aging piece of infrastructure, I’d like you to think of it in a very personal way. In a drought year like the one we’re currently experiencing, the source of our water for municipal, industrial and economic development purposes comes almost entirely from that which is transferred to the Milk River Basin from the St. Mary River Basin through the engineering marvel that is the St. Mary Diversion and Conveyance Works. From the water you may drink today, to the water used to maintain the lawn outside this building, to the water used for every other single purpose in this and other communities in our area – it is all available to us only because federal policy makers 100 years ago had the vision to invest wisely in this vitally important infrastructure we continue to rely on today. It is now our turn to do what we can to assure that this water delivery system remains structurally sound and will continue to deliver quality drinking water to future generations of Montanans.
The St. Mary Diversion Facility is known by many as the “Lifeline of the Hi-Line,” the geographic area of northern Montana that encompasses that area of our state from the Rocky Mountain Front to the North Dakota border. The rehabilitation of this facility is estimated to provide a net economic benefit on an annual basis of up to $41.3 million for our state and this country. Many of the economic benefits that can be attributed to St. Mary water come from Municipal, Industrial and Recreational uses, all of which were not part of the congressionally authorized project when it was created in 1905. These economic benefits will continue to grow as the communities on the Hi-Line continue to grow. The long-term economic value of this project is projected to be as high as $700 million, for a cost-benefit ratio of four-to-one, given the projected cost of this project of $120 million. It is clear that the federal government investment being requested to rehabilitate the St. Mary System will continue to add to the economy of northern Montana and the United States for decades to come.
The part of Montana served by the St. Mary Diversion and Conveyance Works has traditionally not enjoyed the economic prosperity that other areas have. However, we contribute significantly to the overall economy of Montana and this nation, in large measure due to the continued operation of the St. Mary Diversion Works. The Milk River Basin alone produces $67 million in annual farm earnings, which is fully 38 percent of Montana’s total.
This critical piece of infrastructure for the City of Havre and for the other communities, who rely heavily on it for their everyday water needs, serves a rural population of over 17,000 people. I implore you to work earnestly toward an investment by the federal government that will keep this ailing but critically important facility not only operational, but a vibrant part of the fabric of our regional economy.
Thank you for this opportunity.