The Roundup -

Public Support Makes LYIP Project a Priority

 


The incredible public support for Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Project (LYIP) during hearings on the proposed fish bypass and concrete weir placed the project much higher on the priority list for the government entities involved. Those agencies came to realize that the irrigation project is critical to virtually every segment of the population in the Lower Yellowstone Valley, not just the 400 plus farmers who irrigate.

Immediately after the story broke in The Roundup on April 16, 2014 Richland Economic Development sprang into action, setting up a public information meeting, contacting government officials and doing everything in their power to gather information and then disseminate it. Sidney Sugars used their network to galvanize farmers and employees into action. Schools supplied buses for the first hearing in Glendive.

A broad spectrum of the population including farmers, Sidney Sugars personnel, city and county officials, business owners, conservation district representatives, bankers and more attended the hearings and spoke to the value of the irrigation project and the devastating consequences a lack of reliable irrigation water would have on the entire region. Over 400 people attended the hearing in Glendive, while over 300 attended the meeting in Sidney. “The huge public support and total cooperation by everyone made us much more of a priority,” stated LYIP manager James Brower. “We’ve seen a lot of support and a lot more cooperation from state and federal agencies.”

Progress is slowly being made toward construction of the concrete weir and fish bypass. A design team including the US Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, US Fish & Wildlife, MT Fish & Wildlife, MT Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and Brower have been meeting for the past four months revising the 60% design. The group is supposed to get to the 90% design stage by the end of the year.

A biological review team has added the possibility of a notch in the weir to allow better passage of the pallid sturgeon and its drifting larvae. However, putting in a notch may require extra height on the weir. Decisions from the team are slow, since they say they do not have enough experience or research concerning the pallid sturgeon to make a knowledgeable decision.

LYIP and the biologist from the Bureau of Reclamation have requested that the fish notch be put in and the weir raised 3”. They feel that design would provide low water passage in the main channel of the river. They feel it would be easier to construct initially rather than try to retrofit something later. Dollars are also a huge concern since the Corps is charged with the initial building of the project in conformation with the endangered species act. However, if there is a need to retrofit, LYIP could be responsible for those costs.

The Corps hopes to solicit bids and award contracts for the fish bypass and concrete weir by spring 2015.

The Corps granted permission this summer to rock the existing dam, which had lost all its rock due to the ice jams last spring. Comments were received from MT Fish & Wildlife, MT DEQ and the Montana Historical Society. “They all cooperated really well,” Brower said. The Historical Society was concerned with the quarry being a historical site since LYIP has been using it for 107 years. A compromise was reached with a Bureau of Reclamation archeologist supervising boulder gathering to ensure nothing of historical value was disturbed.

The permit came just in time, as the water level had gotten really low. LYIP crews were able to bring the level back up quickly with rocking. Two weeks later, the heavy rains came, easing the pressure.

 

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