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Previous meetings of the Montana-Alberta Water Management Initiative

Highlights of July 19-20, 2010 meeting

The Joint Initiative Team completed their review of approximately 100 water management options. These options can be broadly broken down into those that can be implemented through administrative procedures, and those that require construction or modification of infrastructure.

Alberta and Montana co-chairs summarized the information each jurisdiction gathered from the hydrological modeling results, sharing their vision of success for the initiative and presenting their recommendations for preferred water management options.

The team agreed to investigate combining the preferred options of both jurisdictions. The team established a subcommittee that included the Montana and Alberta co-chairs, water users from both jurisdictions, and the technical team leads to blend Alberta’s preferred option for the 11 driest years (1st quartile) with Montana’s preferred option for the 2nd and 3rd quartiles. Access to water in the wettest years (4th quartile) is not an issue. The subcommittee is to report back to the full team by mid-October.

Highlights of the June 3, 2010 conference call

Members of the Joint Initiative Team met by conference call to review and discuss the results of hydrological model runs completed since their February meeting. Team members reviewed results for the following options:

  • Shared Alberta Milk River Storage Reservoir where Fresno Reservoir storage is 50,000 AF;
  • Montana’s Annual Balancing-Credit System Proposal; and
  • The Revised Modified 1921 Order with 100% Volume Cap.

Alberta’s annual credit proposal from the February meeting was withdrawn.

The path forward will use a common sense approach to understanding the technical information. The co-chairs also reported on a conference call with the International Joint Commission and the Alberta Team’s meeting with Alberta’s Ministers of Agriculture and Environment.

Highlights of the February 23-24, 2010 meeting in Alberta

The Montana and Alberta Joint Initiative Team reviewed the results from hydrological model runs completed since their January meeting and reduced the number of potential water management options to primarily two.

The potential options are:

  • A credit-based system where water must flow into and be credited to a jurisdiction before there can be withdrawals against that credit; and
  • Storage alternatives, and the rehabilitation and sharing the capacity of the U.S. St. Mary diversion canal.

Montana proposed an option to evaluate the impact to each jurisdiction if the proportion of shares was changed. All potential options are intended to help each jurisdiction acquire better access to its entitlement.

Each jurisdiction outlined its proposed credit-based system and potential alternative details to modify and refine it. The potential implications to the shares were modeled for both rivers and are being further refined. The goals for the structural options include helping Montana improve its water management, and moving both Alberta and Montana towards accessing 100 per cent of their shares.

The technical team clarified a number of aspects of the proposals. The technical team will now undertake more detailed modeling to better define the potential impacts of the options and the refining details.

Highlights of the January 14-15, 2010 meeting in Alberta

The Montana and Alberta Joint Initiative Team:

  • Reviewed the results from several hydrological model runs completed since their December meeting that included various options for increased storage in the Fresno Reservoir, opportunities for sharing the St. Mary Canal, and new off-stream storage on the Ft. Belknap Indian Reservation in Montana;
  • Agreed that the remaining options should be discussed in the context of the potential to implement them in the short, medium, or long-term;
  • Agreed in principle that some form of annual balancing is the most promising short-term option, rehabilitation of the St. Mary Canal should be pursued in the medium-term, and new or increased storage is a beneficial long-term solution; and
  • Recognized the right of the other jurisdiction to capture its full share of water through the construction of storage or by administrative means.

Both jurisdictions will now define, in their own terms, the principles and guidelines that should be followed in refining the parameters of the short, medium, and long-term options. Developing a joint set of principles and guidelines will be discussed at the February meeting.

Highlights of the December 3-4, 2009 meeting in Alberta

The Montana and Alberta Joint Initiative Team:

  • reviewed the results from the remaining hydrological model runs, which included the impact on irrigation delivery under the following water management alternatives:
    • seasonal and annual balancing periods;
    • Alberta participating in the U.S. St. Mary canal using different water-sharing scenarios;
    • the theoretical number of acres that could be irrigated reliably with a maximum water supply; and
    • the amount of water each jurisdiction would be entitled to under a water-sharing arrangement different than the 1921 Order;
  • received an update on First Nations water rights by the representatives of the Blackfeet Tribe, and Ft. Belknap Indian Community;
  • discussed the criteria to be used to evaluate and screen the number of potential options which includes a numeric element to calculate the per cent share and volume of water that an option could provide to each jurisdiction, and irrigation reliability; and
  • reviewed and agreed to eliminate about 23 potential options (both technical and administrative) from further evaluation.

In addition, the technical team leads summarized all 70 model run options and clarified details on the potential water management options.

Highlights of the October 28-29, 2009 meeting in Alberta

Members of the Montana and Alberta Joint Initiative Team:

  • Reviewed preliminary results from model runs requested during the September meeting, including a modified filling curve for Sherburne Reservoir, modifications to the current Letter of Intent allowing the U.S. to accumulate a larger early season deficit on the St. Mary River, seasonal and annual balancing periods, off-canal storage on the St. Mary Canal, and a re-examination of storage on the Milk River in Alberta.
  • Discussed and came to agreement on a process for evaluating all the potential water management options in order to screen the list to a set of preferred options for recommendation to the Governor and Premier. Initial screening of options is planned to take place in January 2010.
  • Looked at the possible development of a joint international water management body that could continue some of the work of the current team. This body would provide a link between water users and the water management agencies in each jurisdiction. Water users on each side of the border would benefit if Montana and Alberta continue to work together in a flexible, cooperative, and coordinated fashion.

Highlights of the September 24-25, 2009 meeting in Montana

Members of the team reviewed the results of potential future water management options as simulated by the Technical Team's hydrologic simulation model. Model simulations were compared to a base case scenario that reflects current water delivery operations as much as possible.

Technical Team members ran about 250 model simulations. Potential future water management options modeled included:

  • different storage capacities in Sherburne Reservoir,
  • Lower St. Mary Lake and Fresno Reservoir;
  • three different storage capacities on the Milk River, Alberta; and
  • various combinations.

Additional simulations were done to assess the theoretical maximum amount of water generated by the St. Mary-Milk River system without concern for whether or not the water can be put to use, the impact of in-stream flow releases on irrigation water deliveries and a shared Montana-Alberta Milk River storage project.

Each simulation generated a large quantity of data. Results were compiled into three categories to measure benefits to Montana and Alberta. The categories are:

  • the per cent of entitlement share accessed;
  • the volume of water this represents; and
  • the irrigation delivery volumes and their reliability.

The team requested additional model runs to complete their understanding of the system.

Highlights of the July 23, 2009 meeting in Alberta

Members of the Montana and Alberta Joint Initiative Team toured the Alberta portion of the Milk River to view the potential Milk River Dam location, channel erosion on the Milk River and two direct pumping irrigation operations and the continuous water metering at these operations.

The Technical Team leads presented the final calibration results of the water management model to the joint initiative team, which mimics, as closely as possible, actual operations of the system during the 1959-2003 periods and recommended to the team that the model was ready to simulate the future water management options. The Technical Teams will proceed with the simulations.

Highlights of the June 8-10, 2009 meeting in Montana

Members of the Montana and Alberta Joint Initiative Team:

  • toured a portion of St. Mary Diversion and Conveyance Works on the Blackfeet Reservation in MT
  • received a first-hand look at the storage and conveyance system responsible for diverting water from the St. Mary River to the North Fork of the Milk River by water managers from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
  • were updated on the status of research on bull trout in the Montana portion of the St. Mary basin by Reclamation's fisheries biologist

At the meeting, the Technical Team leads updated the team on the status of the water management model. The Technical Team is testing and calibrating the model so that it mimics, as closely as possible, actual operations of the system during the 1959-2003 period.

Team members described seventeen potential water management options for the Technical Team to evaluate with the water management model over the next 3 months. For each option, the Technical Team will determine the volume of water each jurisdiction is able to access under the option. Modeling results will be reviewed by the team at its fall meeting.

Highlights of the May 4-5, 2009 meeting in Alberta

Members of the Joint Initiative Team toured a portion of the upper St. Mary River basin in Alberta. Water managers from Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development gave team members a first-hand look at the St. Mary River Dam headworks and irrigation and water management infrastructure in the basin. Representatives from three of Southern Alberta's irrigation districts also provided additional information.

The technical team leads reviewed details of the Boundary Waters Treaty (1909), the Order (1921) and the Letter of Intent and provided an update on the status of the water management model and the data that will be used to characterize the system.

In addition, the team members started a review of the water management options that may be recommended, how those options would address jurisdictional interests, and the evaluation criteria that would be used to evaluate, compare and rank options to determine whether each option allowed the jurisdiction to achieve its interest.

Highlights of the April 6-7, 2009 meeting in Montana

Members of the Montana and Alberta Joint Initiative Team toured a portion of the Milk River basin in Montana for a first-hand look at agricultural and municipal water uses in the basin. Water managers from Montana and Saskatchewan described how they cooperate to share water according to the needs of local water users.

Team members:

  • learned that, in dry years, glacial melt water may contribute 1% - 5% of the total flow in the St. Mary River,
  • began the process of identifying the interests (or benefits) their jurisdictions would like to have when they develop water management options, and
  • started to develop the criteria to help measure those prospective options.

The two-day meeting ended with a brainstorming exercise on potential water management options to improve both Montana's and Alberta's access to the shared waters of the St. Mary and Milk Rivers.

Highlights of the February 18-19, 2009 meeting in Alberta

Members of the Joint Initiative Team completed the last of the three information meetings, receiving presentations on:

  • each jurisdiction's water supply and management models,
  • past and ongoing structural and water management investigations, including Montana's ongoing St. Mary Canal rehabilitation work, and past work on storage options in both basins, and
  • additional topics including losses along the U.S. St. Mary canal, and quantities of annual entitlements that were not able to be diverted.

The next stage of the process moves into discussion of the opportunities to gain better access to the shared water of the two river systems.

Highlights of the January 12-13, 2009 meeting in Montana

Members of the Montana and Alberta Joint Initiative Team completed the second of three 'information' meetings. They heard presentations on the existing international agreements, such as the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty, the 1921 Order of the International Joint Commission, and the 2001 Letter of Intent.

The team also learned about:

  • irrigation infrastructure and water application systems used in Montana and Alberta,
  • water management operations in both jurisdictions, and
  • the regulatory/planning process for developing in-stream and ecosystem flows in each jurisdiction.

Highlights of the December 10-11, 2008 meeting in Alberta

At the first meeting of the Montana-Alberta St. Mary and Milk River Water Management Initiative Team, team members received a two-day immersion in the geography, climate and hydrology of the St. Mary and Milk River Watersheds.

In addition, the team learned about the U.S. and Canadian systems of water allocation and use, Montana's federal reserved water right compacts, and the Master Agreement on Apportionment (1969) between the government of Canada, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.


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Updated: Jan 13, 2014