Several weeks ago, the Intake Diversion Dam was the talk of the MonDak region. Naturally, now that the public hearings have passed, it has died down and those that are not directly involved with it, have forgotten already. The survival of the Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Project is a topic that we cannot afford to forget about.
For those unfamiliar with the Intake Diversion Dam, it is located along the Yellowstone River between Sidney and Glendive. The dam feeds water into the Lower Yellowstone Irrigation district which serves farmers in Eastern Montana and Western North Dakota. Over 55,000 acres of land are irrigated with this system and the dam was created in 1905 and has been irrigating the valley ever since. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has found this dam to be an impediment to the endangered Pallid Sturgeon fish. The Bureau of Reclamation and the US Army Corps of Engineers are currently creating an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the proposed federal action they have come up with. The public comment period ends July 28. (See below how you can submit a comment.)
The preferred option by the government agencies and the vast majority of the community surrounding the project, is the bypass channel. This option would create a new bypass channel from the upper end of the existing side channel to just downstream from the current rock weir. This proposal also includes a new concrete weir to divert water. They have found this alternative to be the most effective for the overall cost on the agencies and farmers. The bypass channel would allow the fish to swim around the weir and continue upstream. Additional information on how this alternative works and other alternatives considered can be found here.
However, a select few environmental groups do not agree with this finding and this is why they are creating an EIS. They would like us to completely remove the diversion dam and use pumping stations instead. This method simply is not feasible, it is incredibly expensive and unreliable. The cost that the irrigated farmers would have to bare would simply be too high for it to be a viable option. In other areas where they have to use pumps, they have been without water several times during the growing season because the pumps have broken down or the river was not high enough. In over 100 years, the current canal system has never failed like that. Not to mention the carbon footprint of these pumps would be significantly higher than diversion dam! Did you know that our current canal system is completely operated by gravity? It doesn’t take any power to run it! The only place power is used is if a farmer has a sprinkler system such as a pivot. The diversion dam fills the main canal, smaller lateral ditches feed off the canal and travel to the fields where farmers then take water out of the lateral to feed their individual ditches. All water that is “left over” in the canal and laterals is carried back to the river.
My family irrigates off this system and it is incredibly important to our farm. We raise the feed for our feedlot on our irrigated land. With the incredibly high irrigating cost that would come with the pumping stations, it wouldn’t be feasible for our business to irrigate. Without irrigation, we couldn’t raise silage corn, grain corn and hay and therefore our feedlot would not be able to exist. Without our feedlot, I’m not sure our operation could support all of us.
We’re not the only family business that would be impacted. Every valley farmer and every citizen of our community would be impacted. Our community is built on agriculture and it is our economy’s backbone. Numerous commodities are grown on the irrigated land including sugar beets, corn, hay, malt barley, wheat, and more. These commodities support grain elevators, a sugar beet factory, chemical and fertilizer suppliers, seed companies, custom harvesters, etc. and all of these people support our entire community. Whether people living in our community are farmers or not, they are affected by the irrigation project. The outcome of our situation would set precedence for several other irrigation districts like ours. If the environmental groups “win”, they will continue until they have all irrigation weirs removed.
I urge you, submit a comment. Tell them how important the diversion dam is to our community. Support the bypass channel. Save the fish, save the farmer.
You can submit comments until July 28. They can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
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