BILLINGS — A water outage brought tensions between residents and management of the Meadowlark Mobile Home Park to a boiling point Monday, as water quality and access issues in the park persist.
Water was shut off for more than 200 mobile homes starting Sunday around 1 p.m., and residents say they had little notice or indication of when it would be turned back on.
“One o’clock they turned the water off and a friend of ours came down said he got a text that it would only be a couple of hours, midnight last night still no water, 4 a.m. [Monday] morning still no water," said Carla McCracken, a resident of Meadowlark.
McCracken and her husband, Ron McCracken, have lived in the mobile home park for 30 years and say they have not experienced a water outage of the same scale during that time.
Havenpark, the Utah-based company that owns the Meadowlark Mobile Home Park, says a water main break forced a 24-hour shutdown for repairs and the company would provide bottled water for residents in the meantime. Havenpark purchased the mobile home park, previously known as Blain's Mobile Home Park, two years ago.
The temporary outage brought tensions in the park between residents and management to a boiling point.
“I want water and I want it today. It’s my right. Not as a renter, but as a human being," said Christine Blaylock, a Meadowlark resident.
As residents were picking up packs of bottled water from the office, a shouting match between residents and park employees broke out, and law enforcement was called.
A Havenpark spokesperson says it is policy for staff to call police if they feel at all threatened.
Residents like Blaylock say it's a build-up of frustration over months of bad water.
“We’ve had off and on black to brown to yellow water for the last 18 months," Blaylock said.
Meadowlark is on a well system, not city water, and pumps all its water through four big tanks—but an issue in the filtration system keeps sediments like iron and manganese to pass through, discoloring the water.
Blaylock, the McCrackens, and several other residents said they did not have these types of water problems or discoloration previous to Havenpark's ownership of the park.
Holding up a jar of orange, turbid water—Ron McCracken answers simply where the water came from.
“The tap," McCracken said.
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality says despite its appearance, the water is safe to drink.
But even before Sunday's water main break, many residents were already choosing to only drink bottled water.
“We don’t drink it," Ron McCracken said.
The water came back on Monday afternoon, with full restoration by about 3:30 p.m.
As residents turned back on taps, black water came out of tubs, taps and toilets.
While Havenpark pledges to try to fix the water system, residents said they're tired of waiting.
“Someone needs to be held accountable," Blaylock said.
A full statement from Havenpark on the overall water issues in the park is below:
"Meadowlark is on a well system that is more than 60 years old, and the well system is showing it’s age. Havenpark completely understands the concern of residents and has been doing all we can to repair the filtration and sediment issues.
It’s important to note that while visually not up to expectations, the water has been tested and proven to be safe. We have been completing onsite testing of the water daily ever since we purchased the park during the summer of 2020. Water samples are also sent monthly to Energy Labs to do bacterial testing, and the tests have always come back as safe and are presented to DEQ per requirement.
We continue to follow the guidance of Curb Box Specialist, a 3rd party certified water operator in the state of Montana who is also verifying the safety of the water, and advising us on how to fix the system. During the last several months, we’ve upgraded and replaced several parts and filters, cleaned water lines and tanks, and even brought in the Culligan company to help with filtering. These efforts have significantly improved the water in the community but have not fully resolved the sediment issues during higher usage times (such as weekends). We continue to do all we can and have even called in another out-of-state certified water operator in hopes that they may have new ideas or solutions that we can try.
As new potential solutions are suggested by water professionals, we will continue to invest in, and implement those suggestions as quickly and appropriately as possible.
In the interim, we continue to test the water daily and offer free bottled water in bulk to residents who visit our onsite office."