Water access and availability are essential for people, the environment, and industry—regardless of what country is home (Whole Basin map, 506 KB JPG). For one hundred years Montana and Alberta have shared the water of the St. Mary and Milk Rivers, under Article VI of the Boundary Waters Treaty Act (1909).
In 2003, Montana Governor Judy Martz requested the International Joint Commission (IJC) undertake a review of the IJC's 1921 Order which clarifies Article VI of the Boundary Waters Treaty, and governs the sharing of waters of the St. Mary and Milk River between Canada and the United States. In 2007 the IJC suggested Montana and Alberta begin high level, cross-border discussions regarding the use and management of shared waters. Partially in response to the IJC, the Montana-Alberta St. Mary and Milk Rivers Water Management Initiative was born.
In December 2008, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer and Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach approved the Terms of References for the St. Mary and Milk River Water Management Initiative.
The purpose of the initiative is ‘to explore and evaluate options for improving both Montana’s and Alberta’s access to the shared water of the St. Mary and Milk Rivers, and to make joint recommendation(s) on preferred options to both governments for their consideration and approval’. The Initiative will focus on the timing and access by both jurisdictions to their share of water from the two rivers under Article VI of the Boundary Waters Treaty Act (1909).
Some of the guiding principles within the Water Management Initiative Terms of Reference are:
- Water sharing options will consider implications for users in both watersheds.
- Water sharing options will account for the special circumstances associated with low water years.
- Options should seek to maximize and balance the long-term benefits of water users in both jurisdictions.
Water in the St. Mary and Milk River basins has many uses and users – municipal, power production, agriculture and instream flow needs for the environment. This initiative will focus on the two largest uses – irrigation and instream flow needs for the environment.
The Terms of Reference established a twelve member Joint Initiative Team of local water users and government officials from both sides of the border. The Joint Initiative Team is co-chaired by Robert Harrison of Alberta Environment and John Tubbs of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.
The Joint Initiative Team held their inaugural meeting in Lethbridge, AB on December 10 & 11, 2008, where team members received a two-day tutorial in the geography, climate and hydrology of the St. Mary and Milk River watersheds.
During the next 18 months the Team will explore and evaluate options for improving Montana’s and Alberta’s access to the St. Mary and Milk Rivers, and make joint recommendations for both governments to consider and approve. A report is due to both governments in the fall of 2010 that:
- Recommends projects, initiatives, task and administrative procedures necessary to improve access to the shared water,
- Evaluates the options recommended and options not recommended, and
- Includes a description of the positive and negative impacts, if any, associated with each option.
An expected outcome of the Initiative is that water supplies for people and the environment are secured—an outcome that benefits both province and state.
Joint Status Reports
Lethbridge Herald, November 20, 2009 – Montana, Alberta closer to water-sharing agreement