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Havre boil water advisory downgraded to health advisory

Businesses can again use city water, information on cleaning and disinfecting cisterns shared

Editor’s note: The information in this article was received by Havre Weekly Chronicle after the printing deadline to put in this week’s May 30 print edition. Watch for more on this in the June 6 edition.

The boil water advisory for Havre put in place April 19 was downgraded to a health advisory Wednesday.

The notice from the city government issued Wednesday says the health advisory is precautionary. The city is continuing to complete the distribution system flushing and upgrading treatment operations and data collection, and people with severely compromised immune systems, infants and some elderly may be at increased risk, it says.

Those people should seek advice about drinking water from their health care providers, the notice says.

General guidelines on ways to to lessen the risk of infection by microbes are available from EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791.

The boil advisory was issued after three cases of Giardiasis, caused by the microscopic parasite Giardia and generally considered a water-borne illness, were confirmed in Havre residents and reported to the county health department by April. The average number of confirmed cases in the county is less than one per year.

An entry on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website says the symptoms of Giardiasis typically develop in one to two weeks after exposure, and many infected people don’t show symptoms. Symptoms include abdominal cramps; anorexia; bloating; diarrhea, often with foul-smelling, greasy stools; flatulence, and nausea. Weight loss can occur over time, the entry says. Fever and vomiting are uncommon.

Symptoms typically resolve within two to four weeks, but can last longer especially for people with weakened immune systems.

Havre’s water treatment plant had some issues in February, and although the cause of the three cases was not confirmed to be the city’s public water system, because all three consumed water from the public water supply and did not report exposure to recreational water sources or travel to areas with limited access to safe drinking water, the boil advisory was issued.

The city began increasing its treatment and flushing the distribution system after the boil advisory was issued.

After testing by Montana Department of Environmental Quality May 7 indicated to DEQ the city had not fully implemented unidirectional flushing in the distribution lines to bring water at the levels required under the actions advised for the boil advisory to all parts of the city, the boil advisory was extended May 17.

Because businesses are under a different set of rules than residents, while the city issued a non-mandatory boil advisory, businesses were told they could not use the water for their customers, setting businesses like water supply, restaurants and bars were told they could not use the public water system for their customers.

Hill County Health Officer Kim Berg said May 16 that state laws and administrative rules say retail food and drink businesses cannot use water that is subject to issues like a restricted use order or a boil advisory.

Berg said this morning that businesses were notified Wednesday that they again could use the water but should post a notice about the health advisory still being in effect so people would be aware and could make their own decision.

She said that because DEQ wants the water treatment plant to make some changes and upgrades the health advisory is continuing.

The release from the city said city personnel have increased free chlorine residuals throughout the distribution system and are continuing to flush the distribution system, ensuring fresh water throughout. Measures to ensure water treatment capabilities are being employed and upgrades to data collection have been made with additional changes ongoing.

City officials also met with DEQ officials to conduct a comprehensive performance evaluation at the water treatment plant intended to see what could be done to improve performance at the plant. The evaluation was scheduled to be completed May 24 with a full report issued within 60 days.

Cleaning and disinfecting cisterns

People at the May 6 City Council meeting and a town hall held in City Hall May 20 also asked what they should do if they purchased Havre water from the bulk water distribution and put it in cisterns for use in their residence.

Berg shared today information she received from DEQ on cleaning and disinfecting cisterns from the DEQ-20 Circular:


a. After initial construction of the cistern (or placement if cistern is precast, polyethylene or fiberglass) or after any maintenance, the cistern must be flushed to remove any sediment and thoroughly disinfected. This includes pump or float replacement or any plumbing work that has occurred within the cistern.

b. Prior to filling and using a cistern, it must first be cleaned and disinfected. Cleaning, of all types of cisterns, requires sweeping and removing all debris, dirt, and dust from the inside of the cistern. If this requires entering the cistern, every precaution must be taken to prevent suffocation and breathing toxic fumes. No cistern should be entered until appropriate measures have been taken to ensure the cistern’s air quality is safe as directed by OSHA confined space rules, code of federal regulations, title 29-labor. No cistern should be entered unless the person entering the tank has been trained in confined space entry and follows the appropriate safety procedures for entry. It is also recommended that the interior be cleaned with a pressure cleaner.

c. Disinfection of a cistern can be accomplished by using a solution of household bleach at a concentration of between 100-200 ppm. Common household bleach containing approximately 5% chlorine by weight may be used. Approximately 4 oz. of Chlorine per 5 gallons of water will provide the proper concentration. All inside surfaces must be brushed with this solution. Allow a contact time of 12 to 24 hours.

d. The cistern must now be filled with water from a potable water source. Faucets and water taps must be turned on in the commercial unit or living unit. After the water has run for a few minutes, turn off all the faucets and taps and again let the water stand for 12 to 24 hours. This will disinfect all the water lines of the delivery system.

e. After the allotted time, the cistern must be emptied, and the water lines drained. The chlorinated water is not safe for human consumption. The chlorinated water used for disinfection must not be discharged to a stream, river, or other waterway where damage to aquatic life may occur. The chlorinated water must not be drained to a sewer system. The cistern must now be filled a second time from a potable water source. This water should now be ready for use. If the cistern is constructed from concrete, it may be desirable to use at least 3 loads of water prior to drinking the water. The water may still have a “chalky” appearance and may also have a slight “cement taste”. Circular DEQ-20 Page 39 of 40 December 2023 Edition

f. It is highly recommended that cistern water be sampled annually for bacteriological contents. Other guidelines would be to drain, clean, and disinfect a cistern approximately every five years, especially if a water sample indicates contamination.


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