Written by The Herald-News
Montana's Water Supply Initiative process has been underway for the past month in the Lower Missouri River basin. With all six scheduled Basin Advisory Council Scoping Meetings wrapped up, the Lower Missouri River Council is beginning the process of determining which water resource issues are of most concern to residents of the basin.
The latest meetings were held in Roundup on Oct. 30, Harlowton on Oct. 31 and Havre on Nov. 7. Excellent public participation marked the meetings in the Musselshell and Milk river basins, with more than 40 attending in Harlowton.
Major concerns in the Musselshell included the state's water right adjudication process and whether fair distribution measures might be instituted on the Musselshell's tributaries; aging dams and canals serving irrigators in the basin; salinity problems in both the river and groundwater; decreasing annual precipitation with earlier spring run-off; loss of funding for maintenance of streamflow gages; and spread of noxious weeds along the river corridor, especially salt cedar and Russian olive.
Participants at the Havre meeting had a slightly different list of concerns, including the St. Mary diversion canal rehabilitation project; tribal water Compacts that have not yet been fully negotiated or ratified; the energy development industry's future water use demands; reduced capacity of water storage reservoirs that are filling with silt; and aging irrigation infrastructure.
A summary of the Musselshell Watershed Coalition's water history project entitled Drought, Flood, Saving, and Sharing: A History of Water Resource Supply, Conservation, and Distribution in the Musselshell River Basin of Montana was presented at the Roundup and Harlowton meetings.
The summary prompted a lively debate about the pros and cons of converting irrigation water use from flood to sprinkler. The conclusion reached was that research on soil and water salinity issues; return flow effect on downstream water supply; changes in water quantity used for crops; total quantities of water used by both methods; evaporation losses; long-term effect on soil conditions and productivity; irrigation labor expense and availability, among others, was needed before producers can make informed decisions about switching methods.
The next step in the Water Supply Initiative process will be adoption of a final report of issues gathered by the Lower Missouri River Basin Advisory Council during its scoping meetings. The report will serve as a basis for BAC recommendations made to the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation for presentation to several interim legislative committees.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 November 2013 09:08
Written by The Herald-News
USDA’s Risk Management Agency Billings regional office reminds producers in Montana and Wyoming that the sales closing date for the Pasture Rangeland and Forage insurance program is Nov. 15.
In Montana, a gridded rainfall index is used as a proxy for rangeland and forage production and is intended to reflect how much precipitation is received relative to the long-term average for a specified area and timeframe.
In Wyoming, a gridded vegetation index gathered by satellite is used to observe long-term changes in greenness of vegetation of a specified area since 1989.
Producers can review historical grid data on the RMA web site at www.rma.usda.gov.
Doug Hagel, Billings regional office director, reminds producers to contact their crop insurance agent for more information.
For more information on how to find a crop insurance agent, go to www.rma.usda.gov/tools/agent.html.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 06 November 2013 10:43
Written by The Herald-News
Very few Montanans voluntarily go without health insurance, according to a survey conducted by the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research. This suggests that many uninsured will participate in the health insurance exchanges created as part of the Affordable Care Act, said Paul Polzin, interim director of BBER’s health care industry research program.
The survey found that 76 percent of the uninsured in Montana are involuntarily uninsured. Reasons for lack of health insurance varied, but many respondents noted low-wage jobs, premiums that were too expensive or forced unemployment, Polzin said.
The Affordable Care Act is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1 and will provide health insurance to many of Montana’s uninsured, Polzin said. However, there are many uncertainties concerning how it will turn out.
BBER’s survey found that about 20 percent of Montanans — about 195,000 people — were uninsured. This figure is similar to what the U.S Census Bureau reports.
The uninsured have poorer health than the insured.
“Almost 50 percent of the survey respondents who said they have fair or poor health were uninsured,” Polzin said. “The reasons for their poorer health are not known for certain. Some experts believe that uninsured peoples’ health may improve once they have better access to health care.”
Additionally, the uninsured have more medical debt, Polzin said. About 23 percent of the uninsured said they had medical debts as compared to about 9 percent of the insured.
The survey also found a surprisingly low level of knowledge among those with insurance about important features of their coverage.
“Consumer knowledge is important for rational decision making, and this ignorance may be one of the factors plaguing the health care sector,” Polzin said.
The survey was conducted by telephone — including cell phones — from Sept. 12, 2012, to Feb. 27, 2013. There were 4,662 completed interviews.
The full report may be found at www.csi.mt.gov/health/reports.asp.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 06 November 2013 10:41
Written by The Herald-News
Montana's Fish and Wildlife Commission will meet Nov. 14 at FWP Headquarters in Helena. The meeting is set to begin at 8:30 a.m.
Commissioners will make final decisions on:
•an addition to the Pine Grove Fishing Access Site near Kalispell;
•a release of black-footed ferrets to augment a population on the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge south of Malta; and
•a 40-acre acquisition along Red Hill Road to secure year-long public access to national forest lands in the Big Snowy Mountains south of Lewistown.
Additionally, FWP will ask the commission to approve the following proposals for public comment:
•an annual rule for commercial bait seining;
•the City of Helena's urban deer management plan for 2013-14; and
•administrative rules for the Unlocking State Lands Program.
FWP will also seek the commission's endorsement to proceed to seek conservation easement agreements at Haskill Basin near Whitefish, Sinclair Creek south of Eureka, Olson Farms south of Ulm, Box Elder Creek south of Malta; and the Flatt Property near Dodson.
FWP will also seek the commission's endorsement to proceed to seek a land exchange at the Aunt Molly Wildlife Management Area in the Blackfoot River Valley.
Finally, a commission work session is set for 1:30 p.m. to discuss FWP's policy for the illegal introduction of fish into Montana waters and an update on the federally required revision of FWP's State Wildlife Action Plan.
The work session will follow the Director's Award Luncheon to honor several FWP employees.
FWP ensures its meetings are fully accessible to those with special needs. To request arrangements, call FWP at 406-444-3186.
The full agenda and additional information on the scheduled topics may be found on the FWP website at fwp.mt.gov, click "For Commission Information."
Last Updated on Wednesday, 06 November 2013 10:35
Written by The Herald-News
Montana Governor Steve Bullock joined Montana Department of Commerce director Meg O’Leary to announce the award of $500,000 from Commerce’s Tourism Infrastructure Investment Program for eight tourism facility improvement projects in Bozeman, Browning, Fort Belknap, Hamilton, Malta, Poplar, Red Lodge and Terry.
“Tourism plays an important part in the Montana economy. These grants are an important reinvestment of Montana Lodging Tax funds back into tourism facilities across the state that are working to improve the quality of experiences they offer visitors and Montanans, “ said Gov. Bullock. “These important projects will strengthen our communities and attract more visitors to support Main Street Montana businesses.”
O’Leary noted that “the TIIP grant funds will help both established tourism attractions upgrade their facilities as well as give developing attractions a boost in their efforts to expand their appeal and services.” She added that “these projects also benefit Montana residents by bolstering the local economy and adding to their community’s quality of life.”
O’Leary approved the TIIP grant funding for the projects following recommendations made by commerce staff and members of the state’s Tourism Advisory Council. The eight TIIP grant recipients were selected from 24 applications requesting $1.82 million in grant funds from the program. When completed, the eight projects will result in $1.3 million in tourism facility improvements. The $500,000 TIIP grant funds will leverage $768,848 from other private and public sector sources.
The 2013 TIIP grant awards include:
•$54,000 awarded to the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary in Red Lodge for improvements to their Montana native wildlife care and public education facility’s walkways, signage and grounds. Cost: $81,000.
•$20,111 awarded to Hamilton Players, Inc. for the purchase and installation of updated theater technology and performance equipment in their live theater facility in Hamilton. Cost: $36,331.
•$80,000 awarded to the Blackfeet Tribe for improvements and restoration of the Chewing Blackbones Campground near St. Mary on the east side of Glacier National Park. Cost: $191,200.
•$34,266 awarded to the Fort Belknap Indian Community/Island Mountain Development group for the construction and installation of picnic tables and shades at public recreation and campground areas in or near Mission Canyon/Hays, Snake Butte, Lodgepole and the buffalo pasture viewing area/observation platform along MT Route 66, south of the Fort Belknap Agency. Cost: $51,400.
•$132,586 awarded to Bridger Bowl, Inc. in Bozeman for construction of the Alpine Cabin, which will provide visitor services for those using two new ski lifts being constructed on the north side of Bridger Bowl Ski Area. Cost: $325,000.
•$45,310 awarded to the Prairie County Museum for a water mitigation project in the basement of their historic building in downtown Terry. Cost: $31,500.
•$20,000 awarded to the Judith River Foundation/Great Plains Dinosaur Museum in Malta for the purchase and installation of new hands-on learning stations, improved fossil storage and exterior dinosaur displays. Cost: $31,500.
•$113,727 awarded to the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes to assist in the restoration of the historic Poplar Agency Indian Boarding School Dining Hall for use as a visitor information and tourism program facility. Cost: $472,107.
Since 1995, TIIP grants have provided $5.2 million in tourism lodging tax funds to 114 projects in 52 Montana communities. These TIIP-assisted projects represent $48.5 million in Montana tourism facility improvements financed with public and private funds.
TIIP grant funds are provided by the 4 percent Montana Lodging Facility Use Tax which is assessed on the lodging price of all accommodations across Montana, including campgrounds. The grants are awarded through a competitive process and require $1 match for every $2 provided by grant funds.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 06 November 2013 10:18