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'Catastrophic' failure of St Mary Canal siphon

Water erupts from St. Mary siphon pipe causing flooding in the surrounding area near Babb, Montana.
Courtesy of U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
Water erupts from St. Mary siphon pipe causing flooding in the surrounding area near Babb, Montana.

The St Mary Canal that diverts water used by thousands of people in northern Montana suffered a catastrophic failure Monday.

Just before 9:00 a.m. Monday, a siphon blew out on the St. Mary Canal near Babb, on the Blackfeet Nation.

According to the Bureau of Reclamation, the breach caused flooding and massive erosion, in some places leaving fissures in the ground upwards of 50 feet deep.

Later Monday afternoon, Milk River Project officials posted on Facebook that powerful water flow caused multiple siphons to break apart.

The bureau says no one was hurt and no livestock was lost.

According to a Milk River Project post on Facebook, the breaks will not affect drinking water for the residents below Fresno Reservoir but it will impact irrigation demands since “we are looking at a full replacement not repairs.”

“It is a complete loss of the ability to move water at this point in time,” said Chris Gomer, a regional maintenance chief for the Bureau of Reclamation.

Gomer told MTPR that Bureau of Reclamation staff were monitoring a leak in one of the siphons but left briefly for a staff meeting and came back to discover the north pipe had burst.

He said they have to wait for the canal to fully drain before they can determine what to do next.

Work to replace the aging St. Mary Diversion Dam was scheduled to start later this summer.

The nearly 110-year-old St Mary Canal diverts water from the St. Mary River to the North Fork of the Milk River.

The Blackfeet Business Council has closed the road and all activities related to the canal and St. Mary River in this area until further notice.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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