Kim Bunton, manager of the Hill County Water District, suggests that people in the district might want to boil their water before drinking it or using it for cooking.
"It's not really mandatory, just to be on the safe side," he said.
The water districtdraws the water it uses from Fresno Reservoir. The district announced the voluntary boiling advisory today, in effect until further notice. Customers are advised to boil their water for at least five minutes before drinking it.
Fresno is refilling, and water is available, but has so much sediment, or turbidity, in it that Bunton is concerned the chlorine he treats it with might not be able to kill all the bacteria in the water.
"If they feel there's an odor, a taste problem, they can boil it and it will be safe guaranteed," he said.
The Hill County Water District doesn't have a treatment plant, and uses settling ponds and chlorination to treat the water. Bunton said he's concerned that the chlorine level will drop at the end of long rural water lines. Bacteria could follow any organic material still present in the water, he said.
"Chlorine should kill just about anything, but any time you have that high a turbidity, odds are against you," he said.
The quality of the water probably will improve later this year, Bunton said, but the boiling advisory is in place until further notice.
Part of the problem is how the water level in Fresno dropped over the winter. It is refilling, and is now at about 35 percent of average. But it was as low as 6 percent of average in early April, and the water flowing in has stirred up mud and organic material in the bottom of the reservoir.
The district is part of the area that would be covered by the Rocky Boy-North Central Montana Regional Water System, which is being discussed in Congress. That system would have water that is treated at the source, at Tiber Dam.