Volume 14 Issue 4 April MT

Funding Montana Irrigation

By Kris Polly

In this month’s cover story, our Montana Contributing Editor Mike Murphy interviews one of the top water leaders in Montana’s legislature: Senator Mike Lang, who among other roles serves as the chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Livestock, and Irrigation Committee. Senator Lang tells us more about the importance of funding irrigation infrastructure and his efforts to pursue that goal.

Much of the rest of this issue focuses on title transfer. Many Bureau of Reclamation irrigation projects were set up with the understanding that after their construction costs had been repaid, title to federally owned infrastructure would be transferred over to local sponsoring entities. While it has not always played out that way in the past, title transfer has some momentum behind it today. Over the past few decades, and particularly after the passage of the Dingell Act of 2019, title transfer has become more popular and less onerous, and its benefits are more widely recognized. To learn more, we speak with Tom Knutson, the president of Water Management Solutions LLC and the former general manager of Loup Basin Reclamation District and the Farwell and Sargent Irrigation Districts in Nebraska, which underwent title transfer in 2002, and with individuals from nine additional districts about their own title transfer experiences—the motivations behind them, the process, and the results. We also include a list of all the Reclamation works that have been transferred over the years.

We are also publishing an interview that was conducted live at the 10th Annual Irrigation Leaders Workshop, held in January 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona, where Hobas CEO Martin Dana told attendees about the pipe company’s recent expansion into the irrigation and municipal water markets.

We also speak with Paul Meeks, the President and CEO of Worthington Products, about the company’s canal safety products and its other offerings for irrigation districts.

Finally, we speak with Chuck Podolak, the new director of Arizona’s Water Infrastructure Finance Authority, which has been funded to the tune of $1 billion to identify new sources of water for the state.

It is almost always the case that the people on the ground are the ones who are best placed to make timely decisions, respond to user needs, and determine spending priorities. With that in mind, once a local irrigation or water district has paid back the federal government for its construction costs, it should take a careful look at whether title transfer is the right choice for it. If you are in that situation, I hope this issue helps inform your decisionmaking. I also encourage you to consider reaching out to some of our interviewees for further information and advice.

Kris Polly is the editor-in-chief of Irrigation Leader magazine and the president of Water Strategies LLC, a government relations firm he began in February 2009 for the purpose of representing and guiding water, power, and agricultural entities in their dealings with Congress, the Bureau of Reclamation, and other federal government agencies. He may be contacted at kris.polly@waterstrategies.com.