By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
A regional water system some Havre residents want to look at joining is the result of years of negotiation over Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation's water rights, and work in the Montana Legislature and the U.S. Congress.
The Rocky Boy-North Central Montana Regional Water System was created after Rocky Boy negotiated its water compact with the state and federal government. The system is designed to provide rural, municipal and industrial water to 18,000 people who live on the reservation and in he areas that have joined the regional water authority outside the reservation. It is designed to provide water for 27,000 people by the end of its 50-year design life, with most of the growth expected on the reservation.
Rocky Boy negotiated providing water for its residents from Lake Elwell. In its 2002 authorization of the system, Congress stated that it found Rocky Boy's water system, mostly private wells with water that often doesn't meet Environmental Protection Agency standards for drinking water, inadequate to meet the water needs of residents of the reservation. It said the system also does not meet minimum health and safety standards and is a threat to public health and safety.
Many residents of the reservation have to truck in drinking water.
The authorization added that rural and municipal water systems outside of the reservation have difficulty complying with regulations governing safe drinking water.
The system was authorized to provide water for rural, municipal and industrial needs both on and outside of the reservation.
Robinson said the regional system is needed for several reasons. A pressing need is that the Hill County Water District, which distributes water taken from Fresno Reservoir, is under an administrative order to start filtering and using other methods to treat the water. The system now uses settling ponds and chlorination to treat the water.
If the water district does not connect to the regional water system, it will have to build its own treatment plant.
Robinson said several other water systems that have joined the water project also are in violation of the Clean Drinking Water Act, although the Hill County Water District has the most pressing need.
Forming a regional system allows its members to share in the cost of building one large plant, rather than each having to build its own.
That also allows sharing the cost of operating and maintaining the plant, as well as sharing the cost of upgrading the plant to meet new regulations for treating, monitoring and testing the water.
Upcoming EPA regulations for drinking water are expected to be increasingly complex, and will require greater expense, Robinson said.
The project also will provide a secure water source, she said. Tiber Dam was built to provide irrigation water, but has never been used for that purpose. Robinson said the large lake stayed more than half full at the worst times of the drought in the last five years, including when Fresno Reservoir dropped as low as 6 percent full.
The territory covered by the water authority runs from the Sweet Grass Hills to Dutton and from Loma to the area north of Havre. Entities included in the authority are Big Sandy, Chester, Conrad, Dutton, Shelby, Sunburst, the Galata County Water District, the Hill County Water District, the Loma County Water & Sewer District, the North Havre County Water District, Oilmont County Water District, Sage Creek County Water District, the Sweetgrass Community Water and Sewer District, and the Tiber County Water District. Cut Bank has been talking to the authority for the last two years about joining the system but has not made a commitment.