Annual Report 2020-2021

Message from the Chairman

Even with all the events of this last year, we were actually pretty lucky.

When Drop Structure #5 catastrophically failed last spring, which forced the shutdown of the diversion from the St.Mary River into the Milk River, we needed to make-do like our ancestors did over 100 years ago. We had anunusually wet spring and a few rain events that helped keep the Milk River from drying up entirely. Irrigation wasable to pump until the third week of July which gave the irrigators a longer run than was originally anticipated. Thetowns of Milk River and Coutts/Sweetgrass did not run out of water.

We, as a community, had to adapt to the challenges, and this showed how we can pull together in a time of crisis.Water restrictions for the town, combined with the previously expanded off-stream storage capacity allowed thetown of Milk River to not have to take more drastic actions. The Americans got right to work replacing Drop #5 andDrop #2, as well as repairing Drop Structure #1. They did this in an amazingly short period of time, which allowedwater to be diverted into the Milk River for a short time in October to complete the season and recharge dams onthe river.

The fish in the river were hard hit, but it could have been a lot worse. I watched an eagle fly into a small, isolatedpool of water near my house and catch a big fish. Good for the eagle, but bad for the fish. As luck would have it theriver never did dry up entirely, as it had been feared in the spring. Our ongoing water monitoring program showedthe salt content of the remaining river water concentrated significantly, approaching that of sea water. Most yearsthe river would dry up in the summer except for the diversion water, but due to wetter than normal conditions, it wasable to keep a small stream flowing past my place, in a very narrow channel.

It looks like the large dam project west of Milk River is still a long ways away and only if supported by the IJCmodeling project as a strong option to support both countries. For now, water users are leading exploration into lessintrusive, smaller off-stream projects to augment our water supply should another failure occur to the diversionsystem or balancing water to meet treaty requirements for late season water when conditions under the letter ofintent cannot be met in late summer. This would avoid the situation that occurred in 2017 with irrigators being shutdown at the start of August based on natural flow calculations. The need for improved water security was againhighlighted this spring when the diversion started. In just a few days the turnout sprung a serious leak and thediversion had to be halted. It was quickly repaired, but the 2X6 and plywood patch that looks eerily similar to drop 5before its failure is temporary at best. We currently have water running, but until a much more substantial repair iscompleted to the entire diversion system, we can never be totally assured of our water supply. According to the1909 Boundary Waters Treaty the natural flow of the Milk River is divided between the two countries. When there isvery little water in the river, only 25% of that is available to Canada. We are very reliant on the diversion water.

We are still unable to hold our AGM in person, but we hope to host an in-person Forum this fall; once everyone hashad an opportunity to get their shots.

There, I made it through my entire report without mentioning COVID-19 once —– DAMN!

Good Wishes and Good Health

John A. Ross

Chairman, Milk River Watershed Council Canada

Categories: Annual Reports