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Chinook looks to keep its water clean and clear


After the unexpected effects of the extreme weather of the past few years on local drinking water, Chinook is taking a look at what can be done to keep its water clean and clear.

The Chinook City Council held a public hearing Thursday night to discuss early findings of Morrison Maierle Inc. as they form a preliminary engineering report, a definitive document to guide future actions on the water supply.

Jeff Ashley, an engineer from Morrison Maierle's Helena office, led the presentation. He said the last time Chinook had a similar report done was in 1996 and that a new one is due, considering the 15 years of changes to water quality regulations, the population of Chinook and Blaine County and the state of the city's water cleaning equipment.

Aside from the issues around municipal water cleaning, Ashley said the water itself had changed recently.

According to figures in the presentation that were collected by the Chinook Water Department, the amount of Total Organic Carbon, which includes dirt, grit, microbes and dead vegetation, in the water has spiked in the past two years, now hovering around twice the amount reported from 2004 to 2009.

This sudden increase caused some complications more than a year ago, when the water changes pushed the Chinook water plant out of compliance with the standards of the Department of Environmental Quality.

While the new issues were taken care of, and the water brought back to legal levels, the water now has much higher amounts of disinfection byproducts, which are the result of the increased levels of cleaning chemicals reacting with the increased amount of contaminants in the water.

This was when the city began searching for a solution.

According to Ashley, the facility and the people operating it are doing the best job they can with the Milk River water.

"I am impressed with (Chinook Water Plant supervisor) Corey Fox and the team, " Ashley said. "You are in good hands. "

The building, built in 1976 on the same grounds as the original plant from the 1930s, is "very well maintained" according the presentation, with only a few concerns about "some components aging" and "some operational limitations, " including the challenge of treating Milk River water and a "lack of redundancy with treated water pumping. "

Some solutions were discussed, though real discussion on the subject won't begin until after the report is completed next year.

Changes proposed were to put in a backup emergency power source and replace some components that see a lot of wear.

Council member Freda Bryson asked about the possibility of using settling ponds, like Havre uses, to let sediment settle before going through the filter process. Fox said such ponds would spare the pumps the wear of handling the grit of the river and would make his "life easier, " not having to replace pumps and filters as much.

After Thursday's hearing, the engineers now go back to develop a final draft of the report, have a second hearing late next February and begin planning for the eventual implementation of the report's ideas, including securing funding sources.


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