Irrigation Leader
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Senator Steve Daines on Defending Montana Agriculture

Steve Daines was elected to the United States Senate in 2014 after two years as Montana’s at-large representative in the U.S. House of Representatives. In this interview, Senator Daines tells Irrigation Leader about his advocacy and legislative efforts on behalf of the Milk River Project and the Sidney and Kinsey irrigation projects in eastern Montana. 

Irrigation Leader: Please tell our readers about your background and connection to Montana. 

Steve Daines: It is my distinct honor to serve as Montana’s voice in the United States Senate. As a fifth-generation Montanan, I understand the importance of reliable water to Montana’s way of life. 

Irrigation Leader: Why is irrigation important to Montana and the country? 

Steve Daines: Agriculture is the largest industry in Montana and a major driver of our rural economies. You have to remember that if it’s not mined, it’s grown— Montana agriculture provides food and fiber for folks across the country, and critical to that agriculture industry is reliable irrigation. The viability and sustainability of agricultural operations and the rural communities they support is dependent on irrigation. That is why we must do all we can to invest in and rehabilitate aging water infrastructure. Montanans’ livelihoods, Montana’s rural economies, our American food supply, and our trade relationships all depend on it. 

Irrigation Leader: Would you explain the significance of S. 1305, the St. Mary’s Reinvestment Act? 

Steve Daines: The catastrophic failure of a drop structure in the St. Mary unit of the Milk River Project last month was devastating, and Cindy and I are praying for those faced with this new uncertainty going into irrigation season. For years, the Montana delegation has fought for legislation to prevent this very failure from occurring, but our pleas have fallen on deaf ears. S. 1305, the St. Mary’s Reinvestment Act, would change the federal cost share, allowing the dilapidated water infrastructure to finally be rehabilitated. I wrote to Senate leadership urging quick consideration and passage of this Montana priority. I’ve also written to Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Burman and Secretary of the Interior Bernhardt, urging them to use all their authority to minimize the burden on irrigators. The Milk River Project has been termed the lifeline of the Hi-Line, supplying up to 90 percent of the water used in the Milk River basin during dry years. I won’t stop fighting until I get the 18,000 water users that depend on this system the help they deserve. 

Irrigation Leader: How will S. 1882 benefit the communities of Sidney and Kinsey in eastern Montana? 

Steve Daines: The Department of the Interior did a disservice to the Kinsey Irrigation Company and the Sidney Water Users Irrigation District by refusing to renew long-standing agreements on project use power. The Sidney and Kinsey irrigation districts serve more than 130 family farms and irrigate nearly 12,000 acres of farmland. My bipartisan bill ensures that these irrigation districts will continue receiving this affordable power, which facilitates irrigation. This is absolutely critical to maintaining agriculture operations in eastern Montana. 

Irrigation Leader: What is your message to irrigators and rural communities throughout Montana? 

Steve Daines: First and foremost, thank you for what you do. Your hard work every day supports the Montana way of life, drives rural economies, and puts food on the tables of Americans across the nation. As your voice in the United States Senate, I will continue fighting to ensure that the water infrastructure needs of our communities, our irrigators and our farmers and ranchers are met. Nothing is more important in the West than clean and reliable water. 

Steve Daines is a United States senator from Montana. For more information about Senator Daines, visit daines.senate.gov.