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Drinking water still a top priority at Rocky Boy

 

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Despite nearly nonstop work for almost three weeks to alleviate flood damage at Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, providing safe drinking water remains a concern.

"We're hoping people won't drink their water without boiling it for at least three minutes," Neal Rosette, Rocky Boy's public information officer, said this morning.

After a mid-June rainstorm dropped five inches of water in two days, substantial flooding at the reservation wiped out water supplies to hundreds of homes, destroyed roads, bridges and culverts, and damaged public and private buildings on the reservation.

The Chippewa Cree Tribal government evacuated 50 families from their residences. Crews then went to work to drain flooded areas, repair damaged roads or build new access roads, and replace water lines.

Rosette said all but nine of the families, who stayed in Havre, have been returned to their residences, and they could be back in a couple of days. The families live near the new clinic, and while a new access road was built within a few days of the flooding, crews are still working to ensure it is safe for general use, he said.

"Hopefully, today they'll have that road safely passable," he said.

One of the most immediate problems is water. Rosette said the homes all have been reconnected to water supplies, although rains over the last few days and shifting ground, still saturated with moisture, keeps breaking lines again.

"We're having a heck of a time getting caught up," he said.

Tribal crews, along with officials from agencies including Montana Water Resources, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, continue to work on the water problems, he said.

Other problems are contaminated wells — Rosette said some have tested positive for E. coli contamination — and the lack of the water supply to run through the water mains.

Rosette said that after water service was restored, the system has never been able to get caught back up.

Pumps have been running nonstop but can't keep up with the demand, and the Tribal officials are concerned that the pumps may burn out, he added.

Water running through new lines Also must be boiled, making the boil order apply to all on the reservation.

Rosette said the Tribe is waiting for a federal disaster declaration from President Barack Obama, which Gov. Brian Schweitzer requested last week. Once a disaster has been declared, federal money can be used to help with the Tribe's expenses.

Rosette said the Tribe is paying for everything at the moment, but its funds are limited, and there is concern Rocky Boy will run out of money.

He said the determination that the disaster will not be eligible for federal individual assistance is not a major concern at this point, although the impact of that could depend on how other federal assistance is distributed.

Only two private residences appear to have suffered major damage, and other assistance including insurance may be able to help the families who live in them, he said.

Another main concern is the clinic. A temporary facility has been set up in the old road department building, and the plan is to move the operations by August back to the fa c i l i t y t h e n ew c l i n i c replaced.

The Tribe spent $12 million to build the facility and a wellness center, and whether the clinic can be rebuilt or will have to be replaced is still up in the air.

"No one knows, at this point, exactly what the status will be," Rosette said. "All I know right now is it's unsafe."

 
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