20-06: Resolution on Providing Critical habitat through the Milk River system for Pallid Sturgeon

WHEREAS the Pallid Sturgeon is one of the rarest fishes in North America (Kallemeyn, 1983) and was federally listed as endangered in 1990 decline by isolating pallid sturgeon populations, altering flow regimes, and reducing habitat;

The Pallid Sturgeon is known only to occur in the Missouri River, the Mississippi River downstream of the Missouri River, and the lower Yellowstone River;

WHEREAS the Milk River is ecologically important to the Missouri River downstream of Fort Peck Dam as it contributes flows, sediment, and warmer water temperatures necessary for the recovery of the Pallid Sturgeon (USFWS, 2013);

WHEREAS the Fort Peck Adaptive Management Framework (U.S. ACE, 2018) lists temperature enhancement using Milk River and spillway flows as an adaptive management strategy to manage flows from Fort Peck Dam in order to address pallid sturgeon;

WHEREAS environmental groups have filed suit against U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Fish and Wildlife Service for operating dams on the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers in such a way that endangers the pallid sturgeon.  Lawsuits that impact the operation of the Missouri River Mainstem Reservoir System will have a direct impact on irrigation operations, municipal water systems and citizens that rely on managed water flow in the entire Missouri River Mainstem;

WHEREAS the St. Mary Canal was constructed in 1917 and is used to divert water through a series of syphons from the St. Mary River to the Milk River which can contribute up to 80 percent of the flows in an average year;

WHEREAS the St. Mary Canal is over 100 years old and in need of overhaul to continue to provide a reliable source of water for the Milk River which supports municipal water supplies, irrigation, habitat and recreation along Montana’s Hi-Line;

WHEREAS in May 2020 Drop 5 of the St. Mary Canal suffered a catastrophic failure and as a result no water is being diverted into the Milk River resulting in water shortages for Canada and Montana’s Hi Line;

WHEREAS the current cost share agreement between project beneficiaries (irrigators) and the federal government is cost prohibitive for the irrigators to afford the $200,000,000 estimated cost of design and replacement of the St. Mary Canal now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that the Montana Association of Conservation Districts (MACD), on behalf of its members:

  1. urges the National Association of Conservation Districts to advocate on behalf of the water users in the Milk River and Missouri River Mainstem for rapid response from the Administration to allocate funds and resources to rehabilitate the St. Mary Canal; and
  1. urges the National Association of Conservation Districts to lobby the Administration and Congress to adjust the cost allocation formula that currently assess irrigators and other water users 74% of all maintenance, repairs and rehabilitation.


The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service identified actions to restore habitat connectivity as part of the Pallid Sturgeon Recovery Plan (USFWS, 2013) including “Evaluate need for passage of Pallid Sturgeon at Vandalia Diversion Dam, Milk River. Restore passage at Vandalia Diversion if deemed necessary for Pallid Sturgeon recovery.”

The current design and management of the St. Mary Diversion for the Milk River Project is the primary factor affecting bull trout in the St. Mary Recovery Unit (Mogen and Kaeding 2005b, Mogen et al. 2011). The St. Mary Diversion is operated by BOR and recovery actions identified as necessary to conserve bull trout include: (1) constructing a screen at the St. Mary Diversion to eliminate entrainment of up to 600 bull trout per year (Mogen et al. 2011); and (2) development of fish passage facilities to facilitate upstream migration, especially to access Boulder Creek, the single most abundant local population. https://www.fws.gov/pacific/bulltrout/pdf/Final_Saint_Mary_RUIP_092915.pdf