St. Mary River and Milk River Basins Study Complete

Report outlines findings and alternatives to meeting water demands in the basin

Media Contact: Peter Soeth, 303-445-3615
Tyler Johnson, 406-247-7609

For Release: June 28, 2012

WASHINGTON - Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael L. Connor released the St. Mary River and Milk River Basins Study Summary Report outlining the findings of a two-year comprehensive study of the river basins. The report recommends using and enhancing the new river system model developed through this study to further analyze alternatives to address supply and demand issues in the basins, including Tribal and international issues.

The study, completed in partnership with Montana Department of Natural Resources, developed and tested a river systems model to serve as a planning tool, looked at historic and future water supplies and demands, and evaluated alternatives of how the St. Mary River and Milk River system might meet projected demands in the basin.

"Basin Studies bring water managers together to look at future supply needs and to create solutions to meet those needs," said Commissioner Connor. "Even in good water years we have experienced water shortages in the Milk River Basin, so it is clear that our collaboration with the State of Montana on this study will provide new information and create a set of tools and alternatives that will be used to help meet the basin’s future water demands."

Reclamation and DNRC developed and tested a "daily time step" river system model for stakeholders in the basins to use as a planning tool. The model was calibrated for historic water supply and demand conditions and then was run for five future climate scenarios to assess how the existing infrastructure would respond. The model provides decision-makers and stakeholders a tool to evaluate issues and potential solutions within the basin.

Mary Sexton, Montana DNRC Director, said, "Improved modeling will allow us to assess future water availability and demand in these basins, where water shortages are expected to increase.

"Our challenge going forward will be to improve our infrastructure and to manage water as efficiently as possible," Sexton said. "The new river system model gives DNRC, the Bureau of Reclamation and water users a valuable tool for meeting that challenge."

The St. Mary River and Milk River basins were selected as part of the WaterSMART Basin Study Program in 2009. Basin studies are comprehensive water studies that define options for meeting future water demands in river basins in the western United States where imbalances in water supply and demand exist or are projected to exist. Since its establishment, 17 basins have been selected to be evaluated. The Yakima River Basin in Washington, also selected in 2009, was completed earlier this year.

The WaterSMART Program addresses increasing water supply challenges, including chronic water shortages due to population growth, climate variability and change and growing competition for finite water supplies. Through the Basin Study Program, Reclamation will work cooperatively with state and local partners in the 17 western states to evaluate future water supply and demand imbalances, assess the risks and impacts of climate change on water resources and develop potential mitigation and adaptation strategies to meet future demands.

To read the St. Mary and Milk River Basins Study Summary Report please visit: To learn more about WaterSMART and the other basin studies, please visit:

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Reclamation is the largest wholesale water supplier and the second largest producer of hydroelectric power in the United States, with operations and facilities in the 17 Western States. Its facilities also provide substantial flood control, recreation, and fish and wildlife benefits. Visit our website at and follow us on Twitter @USBR.

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