Multiple Buffalo Rapids’ projects will benefit from stimulus money

By Kay Braddock

     A collaborative effort between federal and state agencies will help fund several projects set to begin this summer at the Buffalo Rapids Irrigation District. Of those grant funds to be used, over $200,000 stem directly from federal stimulus money.

     “Our construction season is so narrow,” BR Project Manager Dave Schwarz said during a recent meeting with representatives from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.   “We’re set up pretty good to start late summer, early fall.”

Pipeline and on-farm projects

     BR was awarded $281,000 of federal stimulus money from the NRCS’s PL 566 watershed grant program. The irrigation district had an application for PL 566 funds already in place from 1998. Since the first year, no funding through the watershed program had been available to the irrigation district.

     The grant money will be used to replace laterals, side ditches that lead from main canals to irrigated farmer’s acres, into underground pipelines. The money will also be used to fund on-farm projects, including six sprinklers, Schwarz said.

     “Anytime you can take an open ditch and convert it to a pipeline that’s going to improve efficiency,” NRCS area resource conservationist Holger Jensen said.

     “The bottom line is to keep as much water in the river as we can,” Jensen said, explaining pipelines decrease water seepage.

     BR is the only entity statewide to receive federal stimulus money through the NRCS.

     “(The) advantage to Buffalo Rapids is they have projects planned in place and were waiting to be funded,” Jensen explained. “They (the federal government) want this money to be implemented now, not six months from now,” he explained.

Last minute stimulus benefit

     Schwarz noted federal stimulus money directed towards the state freed up coal tax funds, allowing eligible Renewable Resource grants through the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to be funded. BR had a $200,000 application in place three years ago, that will now be funded.

     Although half of that money will be used on the lateral replacement project, Schwarz explained that the other $100,000 will be used on a pilot fish screen project.

     Redirecting half of the DNRC funds from one project to another took the last minute effort of state Rep. Dave Kasten, who had 20 minutes to change the information before introducing the change on the House floor. The change of funding proposal passed without any opposition, Schwarz said.

Fish Screens

      In a pilot project, funded through state and federal agencies, BR will be installing fish screens at the Shirley pumping plant west of Terry this fall. Nearly $195,000 from the NRCS WHIP program, $56,000 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and $100,000 from the Renewable Grant Resource program of the Montana DNRC, will fund the project – the first of its kind in the state.

       The fish screen project is not only expected to protect endangered species such as the pallid sturgeon, but also, and maybe more importantly to area producers, it is expected to reduce the amount of moss clogging BR pumps.

     “We have a terrible moss problem,” Schwarz said, noting during late, drought seasons, BR employees and farmers are pulling out moss from BR’s five pumping plants along the Yellowstone River on a sometimes-hourly basis. Schwarz noted some pumping plants have worse moss problems than others.

      “Dave approached me and it sounded like a good idea, so I submitted a project proposal,” USFW Yellowstone River Coordinator George Jordan said. He noted the federal agency is always looking for ways to benefit fish and wildlife resources without imposing on current agriculture practices.

     “That’s why it seems like such a dual benefit,” Jordan said of the fish screen project.

     The Bureau of Reclamation is designing the plans for the project. BR employees will install the fish screens.

     “There shouldn’t be much to it,” Schwarz said. “Setting (them) up in there and locking them in place.”

Published April 29, 2009

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