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BOZEMAN - The state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation is backing off on a plan to increase the storage capacity of Ruby Reservoir, saying the project wouldn't be a prudent use of state funds.

The DNRC is making between $6 million and $7 million in repairs to the dilapidated spillway on Ruby Dam in southwestern Montana. Another $2.5 million was to be spent obtaining water rights and compensating landowners for property that would be submerged if the height of the reservoir was increased by 7 feet.

"To do everything at once was a little bit overly optimistic," said DNRC director Mary Sexton. "What (our finances) looked like during the (2009) legislative session is not how they look now."

The project was touted as a unique partnership between farmers and ranchers, who use water for irrigation, and angling groups wanting more water available to keep the Jefferson River running in late summer.

However, some lakeside landowners, including talk show host David Letterman, opposed the project.

Letterman sent a letter to Gov. Brian Schweitzer in April 2009 urging the state to reconsider its plans. Schweitzer spokeswoman Sarah Elliott said the governor toured the ranch with Letterman last May, but said Schweitzer did not weigh in on DNRC's decision to delay the project.

"He has never taken a position on this issue," she said. "It's a DNRC issues and they are taking care of it."

TU lobbyist Mark Aagenes said the 2009 Legislature appropriated $13 million for the project and he questions how the DNRC can now say it is short of funds.

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Sexton said the decision came down to being conservative with agency funds.

"We have a number of other dams. We want to make sure they have adequate funding as well," she said.

 

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