The celebration of turning on the spigot to rural water users in northern Hill County got off to a bang this morning at TownHouse Inn of Havre.
“This day was a long time coming for all involved,” Dan Keil of the Tiber County Water District, president of the North Central Montana Regional Water Authority, said in his introduction to the celebration.
The day started at the Havre hotel, and was scheduled to travel north to the pump station just north of Havre that pushes water, purchased from the Havre Water Treatment Plant, to members of the North Havre Water District. The last scheduled stop was to tour the core line headed toward Tiber Dam and the water intake facility being built there.
The North Havre system is the first completed connection worked on by the regional water authority.
“Today it’s all about turning on the water system for the first time … ,” said John Tubbs of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, who worked on the project for the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation when the discussion began in 1991. “This is a great day. We're going to get safe drinking water to all the community north of town. It’s the first step in the regional water system.”
Keil said he was in Washington in 2000 while Rep. Denny Rehberg was cleaning out the office he would move into a few days after Rehberg was elected, and Keil stopped in to see the lawmaker-elect about the project.
Rehberg, who worked to get money for the project as soon as it was authorized, said it was one of the first projects pitched to him.
“I hadn’t even been sworn in, and he was beating on my door to my office,” Rehberg said.
He said the project, and efforts like it, are crucial.
Sen. Jon Tester said the same..
“It’s critically important to our families, the businesses in this area,” he said.
One of Sen. Max Baucus’ office directors read a letter in which Baucus apologized for not being able to attend, and said he would continue to work to find funding for the system.
His letter, and Rehberg and Tester, all said the important next step is to continue to seek funding to complete the system and bring quality water to more people in the region.
The water project was started through the Chippewa Cree Tribe’s water compact negotiated with the federal government. As part of the negotiations, it was agreed the Tribe could use water from Lake Elwell to provide drinking water to its members. Since the pipeline would cross numerous water districts — many of which were having problems keeping up with federal drinking water requirements — it was decided to expand the system to provide water to other parts of the region.
Small parts of the system have been completed over the years, and a $20 million appropriation through 2009’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is being used for work including laying the core line to Tiber Dam and work on the system’s structures there.