By Larry Kline/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The Havre City Council has asked the public to share its opinion on water. The council will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. today to debate taking the first step to join the Rocky Boy/North Central Regional Water System.
The council will decide if it wants to spend about $20,000 on an engineering study to determine what it would cost the city to join the water system. Annmarie Robinson, a Bear Paw Development Corp. official who is coordinating the project, will attend the hearing to answer questions from the public.
The water project, for which Congress has authorized $229 million, will bring treated water from Lake Elwell to the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation and other communities and water districts in the area, serving about 18,000 residents.
Havre decided not to join the project in 1997, instead choosing to upgrade its water treatment plant. The City Council began reconsidering the issue early last year after residents and members of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce voiced concerns over the future of the city's water supply.
Council member Pam Hillery said she thinks Havre should consider joining the water system and wants to hear from residents.
"I really encourage people to come," Hillery said. "This is everyone's future. Come and tell us what you think.
"Clearly, I support it and am willing to spend the $20,000 in the (reserve water) fund we have," she said. "If we are to develop as a town, we need an additional source of water.
"This (study) is the first step," she said. "We don't have to buy into the system; we just have to look at our options here."
Hillery said she had three main questions about the system. She wants to know if the water treated at Tiber Dam at Lake Elwell will be a secure, reliable source. She is concerned about the future of the city's water treatment plant, which Robinson said could not be used with the Rocky Boy system.
If Havre chooses to join the system, the water it takes from the Milk River and treats cannot be allowed to co-mingle with water coming from Lake Elwell, Robinson said at a Feb. 7 council meeting.
Havre Area Chamber of Commerce past president Chuck Wimmer said he believes the water system is a good choice for the city's future.
"I think that jumping into this system would provide a reliable source of water for the future," Wimmer said today. "This is a long-term deal that we're looking at here. If the (St. Mary) diversion failed, we'd (still) have a good, adequate supply of water."
The diversion is a series of canals and siphons on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation that provides much of the water in the Milk River.
Wimmer said another advantage of the system is that the cost of maintenance and upgrades will be shared among all of the entities involved in the project.
"You're going to have a larger region paying for the upkeep of the system instead of a single entity," he said.
Bill Thackeray, a senior professor at Montana State University-Northern who teaches a summer class on water rights, noted that four Indian reservations have claims to water from the Milk River. Though it isn't an issue now, Thackeray said, those claims could supercede Havre's ability to get water from the Milk in the future.
He also noted that the Rocky Boy/North Central system would be newer.
"It looks to me like a no-brainer," Thackeray said.