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Milk River Project | Facebook

A Burst Siphon Across the Border Is Leaving Us High And Dry

The Milk River dropped two feet in a week, leaving surrounding towns unsure of where to go next

Procrastination rarely ends well, mainly when the task being put off is repairing old pipes.

Our southern neighbours learned this on June 17 after the St.Mary Canal siphon burst.

The St. Mary Canal, constructed in 1917, diverts water through a series of siphons from the St. Mary River to the lower Milk River valley in Montana.

The 100+-year-old pipes beside it quickly followed suit, resulting in a mess that won’t be remedied soon (see video here.)

“No one was hurt, but the damage is extensive,” said the Milk River Project in a post on Facebook

Water Connects Us All

It may have been a hard lesson for those in Montana, but we all suffer the consequences communally.

The siphon break | Bureau of Reclamation | Montana
The siphon break | Bureau of Reclamation

The Milk River flows across the Canada—US border. Although the infrastructure may have been in the US, the impacts have already hit southern Albertans.

The river, especially the Milk River, is a primary water resource for the Town named after it, and the moment those pipes burst in the US, the flows in the Canadian portion of the Milk River dwindled.

It’s now at risk of completely drying up.

“It’s completely collapsed the tourism industry. The Milk River is known as one of the top 10 paddling rivers in Canada,” said Tim Romanow, executive director of the Milk River Watershed Council of Canada, told CBC News.

“We get lots of folks that come down from Calgary, Edmonton, and other areas just to paddle the river, and that’s not happening this year.” 

The St. Mary siphon diverted water from the St. Mary River into the Milk River, keeping it flowing for all of us up north.

But without the siphon, the Milk River was reduced to its “natural” flow levels within a week.

And with the ongoing drought experienced in southern Alberta – the already low natural levels are even lower!

Before the siphon problem, the river’s flow rate was about 17 and a half cubic meters per second. It’s now  less than one cubic meter per second.

The water level has also dropped about two feet, making it unsuitable for paddling and dangerously low for water use.

Water Conservation

Local Milk River residents and businesses have had to follow in Calgarian’s footsteps after the water main break in that city. Both places are working to reduce their water consumption to match the strained resources.

The damage from the burst pipes is extensive | Bureau of Reclamation | Montana
The damage from the burst pipes is extensive | Bureau of Reclamation

“For now, we’re trying to do what we can to help conserve water. Just to make sure that the Town has enough supply and also try to keep our golf course viable,” Doug Smith, president of the Riverside Community Golf Society, told CTV News.

The golf course is down to using about a quarter of the water they did previously, and they’re far from the only ones who will have to take those steps in the future.

“There are some high-value crops in there and the direct impact to those farm families is probably two to three million dollars in losses this year alone,” said Romanow. 

This news came less than two weeks after the province released its Approved Water Management Plan for the Milk River Basin, which had planned cooperation with the local agricultural community to maximize available water. 

The sudden drastic reduction throws those plans for a loop. Until they know how long the situation will last, there’s a fair amount of uncertainty around the best course of action for the Town of Milk River.

The Town has about a three-month supply of water stored, so long as no forest fires hit the area.

“Still just trying to gather information to see what steps to take moving forward. Whether or not we do place some actual restrictions in place,” Kelly Lloyd, CAO of the Town of Milk River, said.

The damage to the siphon will be assessed, and hopefully, repairs will be made on time.

The Milk River is one of Canada’s top river canoe trips |
The Milk River is one of Canada’s top river canoe trips |

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