Federal regulators have approved a plan to divert water from the Yellowstone River to help farmers in eastern Montana after they said earlier that a permit might not be issued until fall, which would be too late for farmers in the region.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed to allow the Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Project to use boulders to rebuild a diversion barrier to irrigate about 55,000 acres of farms between Glendive and Sidney.
The diversion flows into 400 miles of canals before flowing back into the Yellowstone near the river's confluence with the Missouri River, allowing farmers to grow sugar beets, malt barley and soybeans on irrigated land, the Billings Gazette reported.
James Brower, Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Project manager, said the irrigation project needed a permit in time to begin placing boulders in the river by mid-July.
The boulders protect a wooden barrier that keeps water flowing to area farms. The barrier gets damaged by ice flows on the Yellowstone in the winter, knocking off a protective cover of boulders that need to be replaced.
The permit was questioned when federal agencies began working on a new diversion project to save pallid sturgeon. Biologists say the fish needs a path beyond the diversion so it can reproduce.
Wildlife groups filed a lawsuit saying a proposed bypass project might not work.