Havre Daily News
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality lifted a boil order for most of the Hill County Water District on Tuesday after a period of clean samples, but it plans to require the district to install a filtration system, a DEQ official said today.
Hill County Water District board chair Dave Jones said Tuesday a filtration system could cost upward of $500,000 and will have to be paid for with loans and increased water fees.
Meanwhile, the boil order is still in effect for district users who live within a 2-mile radius of Kremlin, and a health advisory is in place for the entire district, which serves 1,700 people from Kremlin to Joplin, DEQ environmental engineer Janet Cherry said today.
The boil order continues for the Kremlin area because Hill County Water District water is chlorinated at Kremlin and there isn't sufficient time to kill all of the bacteria before it reaches nearby users, Cherry said.
The health advisory for the entire district indicates a recent problem. The advisory says that people who are using district water for infant formula, or who are elderly or infirm, should continue to boil their water.
For three weeks, officials have found the system to be adequately chlorinated and free of potentially harmful bacteria, after a period of two months of inadequate chlorination and intermittent positive bacteria tests, Cherry said.
DEQ issued the boil order on Aug. 4 after taking a random sample of district water that was found to contain E. coli and coliform bacteria, indicators of animal or human fecal matter. E. coli can cause a flu-like illness. The water system is fed by surface water from Fresno Reservoir and the Marias River. Cherry said those bacteria are common in untreated surface water.
Since 1994, the district has been under an administrative order to attach to the Rocky Boy's/North Central Regional Water System. When that order was written, officials believed the water system would up and running soon, Cherry said.
The Hill County Water District is one of the few water systems statewide that still uses unfiltered water, Cherry said.
“I think Hill County is the only one in this particular situation, only as a result of the North Central project that everybody assumed 10 years ago would be on line,” Cherry said. “It wasn't them being negligent. It wasn't us being negligent. We just had different information back then.”
Cherry said the increased scrutiny that resulted from the discovery of bacteria in the water meant that the new administrative order requiring a filtration system will be put in place sooner than it otherwise would have been, but it would have come eventually.
“We can't let Hill County continue to operate in this manner,” Cherry said. “We would have eventually been to this point in time, but given some of the recent sample results that indicated E. coli was present, that definitely expeditedthe process.”
Jones said the district had hoped it could stay under the old order because the new one will be costly.
“We're still exploring (filtration options) and seeing what we come up with,” Jones said. “We're not in favor of going to a full-blown filtration” system.
But Cherry said today that will probably be necessary. The board has proposed using an ultra-violet light sterilization process, but that can only be done when there are not a lot of particles in the water, Cherry said. District water probably has a lot of particles in it, and she said she doesn't think the instrument used by the district to measure the volume of particles is sufficiently accurate to judge whether an ultra-violet system would work.
Also, Cherry said, the district did not always follow the requirements of the old administrative order. It did not always conduct follow-up tests when a high volume of particles was found in the water. That may also have been due to the equipment available, she said.
DEQ can assess fines if its requirements are not followed, but she said DEQ has not and probably will not do that because that would be counterproductive.
“They are being cooperative. They are doing anything we've asked them to do,” she said.
The district and DEQ are negotiating the terms of the new order and hope to have a draft by the board's next meeting, which is Nov. 2 at 7:30 p.m. in the lower level meeting room of the Hi-Line Insurance Building in Hingham.
Today is the first day of work for a new water district manager, Jones said. The previous manager retired in July. His replacement recently resigned. The system has one part-time staffer now and is seeking a second full-time manager, Jones said.