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Crow Tribe Water Authority says vandals used guns, fire to destroy water treatment plant

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BIA is investigating the incident at the water treatment facility (MTN News) BIA is investigating the incident at the water treatment facility (MTN News)

CROW AGENCY - As many as 2,000 Crow Agency residents remained without clean water Thursday after vandals wreaked havoc on a tribal water treatment facility, firing gunshots into processing equipment and setting fire to everything in sight.

"Probably the most disturbing thing was the gunshot holes in my desk, our computer screens,” said Candy Felicia, the director of the Crow Tribe's water authority.

Felicia said when she first walked in for work, she could not believe the amount of destruction.

“There were burned papers everywhere,” said Felicia. “My duffel bag by my desk was burned. I understand now that they wanted to actually burn the plant down. But because it's concrete, that proved difficult for them."

The suspect or suspects also fired shots at a flammable tank containing chlorine, which Felicia said thankfully did not explode.

“It could have killed them,” said Felicia.

Felicia said the vandals not only disrupted the tribe's water supply, but destroyed crucial water data.

“We’re very concerned about that because that data is how we maintain EPA standards,” said Felicia. “It might be gone.”

The damage is estimated at about $1 million to a facility that hasn’t been open all that long, according to Felicia.

This facility is the result of the Crow Tribe's Water Settlement Act of 2010, which dedicated U.S. government funds to make clean drinkable water available throughout the Reservation.

"There are two water plants, the BIA water plant and the tribal water plant, and it's the tribal plant that was vandalized," said Laura RidesHorse, the Crow Tribe’s disaster and emergency services coordinator. “The BIA plant still works, but we can’t use the water because two plants funnel into one through the water system.”

The tribe's public safety department made home deliveries throughout the day Thursday dropping off cases of water to people in Crow Agency who are impacted.

 Each family received 40 bottles of water to live off until the plant is back online. According to the public safety officer, water is being purchased but also donated by outside organizations, such as Billings Fire Department.

In the midst of growing financial trouble, which includes recent furloughs of tribal government positions, Felicia said the water issue is just one more fire to put out.

But she's confident the tribe can overcome.

"The individuals that sabotaged this plant, yes they made our jobs hard and set us back a lot of money, but it's nothing that can't be replaced,” said Felicia. “Now the job at hand is finding emergency funding to replace everything that's lost."

On Wednesday night, authorities said a suspect had been detained but it was unclear Thursday if anyone remained in custody.

The results of the water testing were expected Thursday night.

RELATED: Suspect detained in vandalism at Crow water plant; drinking advisory remains in place

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