Milk River at risk of dwindling water supply after ‘catastrophic’ break of siphon pipe

A water main break is affecting another southern Alberta town, leading to a water shortage.

The Milk River, which flows across the Canada and U.S. border, is now at risk of running dry following a catastrophic siphon break near the Carway, Alberta, crossing.

On Monday, crews near Babb, Mont., were called to the break in St Mary Canal, a century-old pipe that carries water through the river.

BREAKING NEWS This morning (6.17.2024 around 9:00 a.m.), the St. Mary siphon on the St. Mary Canal outside of Babb, MT, suffered a catastrophic failure while Reclamation personnel were on-site monitoring the siphon. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but the damage is extensive. The canal was shut down prior to the failure, but the hillside, Hook's Hide-Away bar, hotel, and roping arena have all been significantly impacted with the water. Please stay out of the area as we are unsure of the extent of the damages. Stay safe, everyone, and keep an eye out for updates. #BreakingNews #StMaryCanal #BabbMT

Posted by The Milk River Project on Monday, June 17, 2024

This river supplies water to the Town of Milk River, which is about 75 kilometres south of Taber. Now, officials in the community are left scrambling to prepare.

Marko Mantouk, co-chair of the St. Mary’s Rehabilitation Working Group in Montana says the repercussions are widespread.

“Our project suffered catastrophic failure. But the system also benefits some of the people in southern Alberta along the Milk River — Milk River, Canada, would be one of them,” he told CityNews.

He says the infrastructure is old, and that two siphon pipes next to each other were affected.

“One collapsed or exploded, it reached the side of it. And as it eroded underneath it, the other one, it’s bloody broken in half because it wasn’t being supported by the earth,” Mantauk explained.

“It effectively stopped the flows of water out of Sherburne reservoir, which is in Glacier National Park.”

There is no “natural flow” to the Milk River, and Mantouk says this means water in the river will continue to recede before eventually drying out.

“With our catastrophic failure, and the shut off of flows from our irrigation project, the water is going to recede in the milk river till it stops,” he said.

“There will be a prolonged period of time when there is no water flowing across the Milk River as we go into winter here.”

In a statement to CityNews, the Town of Milk River Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Kelly Lloyd says they’re now on a “fact-finding mission,” and residents are already under water restrictions.

“At this particular time, we are still in a fact-finding mission and getting some updates as of this morning,” her statement reads.

“As for the Town of Milk River, we have already asked for restrictions on water consumption, and we will be looking forward to updates as to time of rehabilitation or repair in which we will be formulating some plans.”

Lloyd continued to say they will be determining the next step once a rehabilitation work update is provided.

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