Rocky Boy’s/North Central RegionalWater System

Great Falls Tribune

by Kim Skornogoski

Though the entire project is years away from completion, the Rocky Boy’s/North Cen¬tral Regional Water System’s first customers can drink the water pouring out of their faucets.

For the last two years, the 23 families living in the North Havre Water District drank bottled water. They were warned to boil the tap water before brushing their teeth and to keep their mouths closed while taking showers.

“People who can just turn the tap, they wouldn’t under¬stand,” said Michael Landen¬burg, who farms north of Havre and operates the dis¬trict’s water treatment plant. “It’s been quite difficult.”

Several communities along the Hi-Line, including Brady, South Chester and the Riverview Colony, are all in similar straits.

Once a treatment plant is built at Lake Elwell near Chester and a waterline is installed, the project will deliver clean water to a territory the size of Delaware.

In addition to serv¬ing the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation south of Havre, 20 or more communities will get clean water along the way.

Once finished, the system will deliver water to about 50,000 people.

Last summer, $20 million in federal stimulus money more than doubled the funding the project has received since it was authorized in 2002. At that time, the project was estimated to cost $230 million, but the price tag grows by about $18 million a year because of inflation.

Much of the stimulus money paid for work done at the intake facility. Tony Bel¬court, who is the head of the Chippewa Cree Construction Company, hopes to have the building done by the end of October.

“It’s been a very unique partnership with the tribe, the regional water authority and the Hutterite (colonies),” Bel¬court said. “It’s refreshing to see that everyone is working together for one common goal, and that’s fresh drinking water.”

However, with money drib¬bling in, project planners must wait to buy big-ticket items, including the entire treatment plant and four 700-horsepow¬er pumps.

For now, they are working on fringe elements as money allows, prioritizing communities that have hazardous water.

Mary Heller, general manager of the North Central Montana Regional Water Authority, said places such as the North Havre Water District would need more than $2 million to make the need¬ed upgrades to their treatment facility — far more than the tiny community can afford.

The problems were too great to wait an untold number of years for the bigger project to be fin¬ished, so the water authority instead connected North Havre’s lines to the Havre water treat¬ment system.

As money allows, the authority will run pipeline to connect Brady to Conrad’s water system and connect towns such as Kevin and Oilmont to Shelby’s water sys¬tem.

Though it’s working a bit back¬wards, each connection progress¬es the bigger project. Eventually, the water source will be Tiber Reservoir — not the city systems. “It might take us 40 years to get this done,” Heller said, half laugh¬ing. “But Rome wasn’t built in a day. It’s certainly a big deal that these guys are finally getting clean water.”

With federal and state budgets tight, project planners are con¬cerned that the big strides made in the last year will stall out.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it,” Heller said. “We’re certainly a lit¬tle concerned, but we’re hoping the government will realize that if you don’t have clean drinking water, you can’t build houses or have economic growth. We’re not the ‘Bridge to Nowhere,’ we’re providing clean drinking water.”

The project will know in Sep¬tember how much money Con¬gress will give it to spend next summer. Right now, the sched¬uled appropriation is $5 million.

Belcourt said that’s not enough to move forward on either the intake facility or the treatment plant, but each million dollars pays for another mile of pipeline.

This summer, crews laid nearly 6 miles of 36-inch steel pipe in the Cottonwood Creek area, at a rate of 600 feet each day.

Flooding on the reservation this spring pushed project planners to connect tribal villages to the reser-vation’s main water system. So far, five of the 12 residential neighborhoods are connected.

The tribally owned construc¬tion company has about 70 people working on various elements of the project, increasing its number of employees by 60 percent over last year. In addition to those jobs, the tribe hired subcontractors from across the Hi-Line, including welders, electricians, masons and roofers.

Belcourt said that without a firm budget year after year, the administration and engineering costs are higher and planning is more difficult.

He hopes the federal govern¬ment sees the wisdom of investing in large-scale water projects.

“The days of individual wells are gone,” Belcourt said. “There’s a lot of momentum — not just in Montana but nationally — toward these big systems.”


Stimulus funds aid Fort Peck water project

The infusion of stimulus money also helped the Hi-Line’s other major water project make big strides this summer toward deliver¬ing drinking water to communities in northeastern Montana.

Having received $17 million in general fund money, in addition to $40 million in stimulus money last year, the Fort Peck/Dry Prairie Project is closer to its goal of deliv¬ering treated water from the Missouri River to northeastern Montana, including the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.

Earlier this summer, pipe was laid as far as Nashua.

Once finished, the $275 million project will provide water for about 28,000 people in Valley, Daniels, Sheridan and Roosevelt counties.

Project managers hope to deliver water to Poplar by June.

Thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money, the project is on schedule to finish the intake facility by fall 2011.

Like with the Rocky Boy’s/North Central Montana Regional Water Project, matching state funds have been used to run water pipeline to many of the rural areas that even¬tually will be served by the larger plant.

Nearly all of the federal money is dedicated to laying pipeline to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation or to completing the expensive work of the intake and treatment plants.

Clint Jacobs, the manager of the nontribal portion of the project, said contracts were awarded to hook up 100 farms and ranches north of Bainville. So far, 250 users in Roosevelt, Sheridan, Froid and Medicine Lake are receiving water from interim sources at Culbertson and the old Glasgow Air Force base, which is owned by Boeing.

“All in all, when we complete what we’ve presently started, the Dry Prairie portion will be about 20 percent complete,” Jacobs said.

“That’s remarkable, considering the limitations on groundwater and fed¬eral funding.”

The project is set to receive $6 million in the next federal fiscal year. The state is looking to cut its budget, so project planners will have to wait to decide how to progress.

The hope is to expand to more areas of Valley County next.

“This is what we’ve done all along,” Jacobs said. “We’ve tried to match our projects and designs with the money available. We always try to have flexibility in what portions of the project we can do.”