While the Great Northern Fair is in town this week, more people than ever are able to experience, and smell, the water in Havre that has been unpopular with the residents this year.
This week the Havre Public Works director explained more of why the water is the way it is and what the city is doing about it.
“We’re working on it, ” Dave Peterson said. “Our engineers and the people that supply our chemicals are looking at it, but we haven’t seen anything that changes it. ”
He said the color of the water is a result of a number of factors that start miles away.
First, the water coming into the water plant has been particularly dirty in the past few years.
More rain and snowmelt coming down in the spring brings more debris with it, especially in the low-flow creeks that drain into the Milk River and Fresno Reservoir, where Havre gets its water.
The recent more extreme winters and springs have made this problem worse in the past few years.
“We’ve had more runoff in the past two years than we’ve had in probably the last 20 years, ” Peterson said. “They have got springs showing up in the mountains that some of the farmers and ranchers out there have never seen. ”
The increase in local water, in the Milk River, also means that no water is being diverted into it from the St. Mary’s River, which is more clear. In the past, Peterson said, the St. Mary’s water has helped clear up the Milk’s murkiness.
Then when the water gets to the water plant in Havre, it has to be treated with more chemicals to get out all of the Milk’s debris.
The city has been using “ferric” treatment chemicals for the past several years, after switching from “alum”-based chemicals when they started getting too expensive to use.
Before they changed, they found ferric products to work just as well as the alum they were using, and, according to Peterson, this is still the case.
Peterson said that when the water leaves the plant, it’s clear. It’s when it gets into the city’s water system that it can pick up some of that unusual tint.
According to Peterson, the tint comes from the chemical manganese that is in most of the water around here, in the rivers, the well water and in the cities water pipes.
Wade DeBoo is an engineer who specializes in water systems at Thomas, Dean & Hoskins in Great Falls, which has worked with the city in the past.
DeBoo said that he was not familiar with the current particulars of Havre’s water, but said that Peterson’s comment about manganese was a common problem, but not something that’s commonly addressed.
“Manganese on its own, even with a brown tint, would not be a violation of water standards, ” DeBoo said. “Under normal conditions, you don’t normally have a health concern with manganese.
“It wouldn’t be addressed. ”
Peterson said the manganese gets built up in pipes. Then, when water usage picks up in the spring and summer and flow increases, it pulls more of the manganese out of the system.
The city’s systematic flushing of the system also contributes to increased manganese, which is why the problem seems to travel around town, to different neighborhoods at different times.
The water today, even if it is an unusual shade, is still better than it was years ago, when the city used to pull from wells, according to Peterson.
“People don’t remember when we used to use well water, ” Peterson said. “You could definitely tell when the city was using well water, you could taste it.
“When you would make coffee, in a coffee pot you’d see the little rainbow film on top. ”
He said they stopped that more than a decade ago and couldn’t even go back if they wanted. It’s so full of nitrates, the state Department Environmental Quality won’t let them.
Basically, he said, they’re doing everything they can. They want it to be as clear as anyone else does, whether living in Havre or just visiting the fair.
“People think we’re worried about the costs, but if there was something we could to take care of the water, we’d do it, ” Peterson said. “We’re all residents of the city. We all use the same water everyone else does. We have people down at that plant who take their job seriously and want to do a good job. They care a lot. ”