Uncommon Ground

The Senate Farmer Delivers

Tester remains the only member of Montana’s congressional delegation voting for local infrastructure, healthcare and seniors

By Mike Jopek

Dryland farmers know the value of rain and water. They plant by the weather, learned from generations of experience, taught by parents who learned from parents. It’s not something newcomers to Montana can do alone, even ones with thick wallets.

Drinking water for 14,000 people in Havre, Chinook, Harlem and Fort Belknap is suddenly in danger. Nearly 800 farms that grow alfalfa, native hay, oats, wheat, barley and sugar beets on 120,000 acres of land need America’s help.

“This is a disaster that requires the immediate and full attention of the Department of Interior and the Department of Agriculture,” wrote U.S. Senator Jon Tester. “I ask that you swiftly work to ensure that the local community and the irrigators have the resources they need to confront the challenges that lay ahead.”

Over the Rockies near Babb, an 8-foot-tall steel pipeline, a section of The Lifeline of the Hi-Line, blew apart gushing 600 cubic feet of water per second. Built over 100 years ago, the antiquated steel pipeline diverted water from the St. Mary River through nearly 30 miles of siphons and canals.

The St. Mary Canal Siphon supplied the Milk River with up to 100% of its water during long dry summers. The 700-mile river starts on the Blackfeet Nation, visits Canada, returns back to the Hi-Line, then dumps into the Missouri River below Fort Peck Dam. That dam was built by 10,000 workers from a time my 90-year-old father-in-law was born during the Great Depression to when he turned 7 years old.

Tester’s dryland farm is within Montana’s Golden Triangle agricultural homelands spanning from Great Falls to Havre, west to Cutback, and southeast back to Great Falls. It’s the best ground on the planet for growing high quality wheat.

All the moisture Tester’s farm receives comes from rain and snow. He and Sharla grow several varieties of wheat, barley, safflower, buckwheat, lentils, alfalfa, millet and peas.

Tester earlier secured $100 million for the Milk River Project through his bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. No Montana Republicans voted for infrastructure funding.

“As a third-generation farmer, I know how critical this project is to thousands of families living in rural Montana,” Tester wrote. “Montanans have made clear that replacing the St. Mary’s Dam is long overdue, which is why I made sure to secure this funding in my bipartisan infrastructure law. I am glad to see a Montana company is running this project and I look forward to seeing shovels hitting the dirt to get the dam repaired and rehabilitated so Montanans have access to the water they need for decades to come.”

Tester’s infrastructure law includes $3 billion for Montana’s roads and bridges, $2.5 billion to settle authorized Indian water rights, $1 billion for rural water projects through the Bureau of Reclamation, $65 billion for internet to rural places nationwide, over $3 billion to reduce America’s wildfire risks, and nearly $4 billion for Land Ports of Entry to secure the northern and southern border.

Tester’s infrastructure law invests over $800 million in Montana broadband, as 100,000 homes and businesses across the rural state can’t access high-speed internet. Tester’s infrastructure funding is building a water tower in Kalispell, rebuilt our local airport, and paves highways across the Flathead and state. That’s a lot of local jobs, an anticipated 800,000 nationwide.

Tester got insulin costs capped at $35 per month and free shingles vaccines for seniors on Medicare, delivered over-the-counter hearing aids, and dramatically lowered out-of-pocket costs for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and rheumatoid arthritis medicine. Again, without Montana Republican help.

Healthcare is affordable to thousands of Montanans because of Jon Tester. The rural farmer’s congressional work keeps small-town hospitals and clinics open throughout the 147,000 square miles of Montana, the fourth largest state in the Union.

It took months of negotiation with a bipartisan group of five Republicans, four Democrats, and the White House to enact his infrastructure law, but Tester got it done.

Tester remains the only member of Montana’s congressional delegation voting for local infrastructure, healthcare and seniors. Tester invests in real people and small-town businesses. The Montana farmer knows the value of hard work and delivers for rural locals.