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Billings school board approves $80K to replace Rose Park Elementary water line

Bad Faucet
Posted at 6:21 PM, May 21, 2024

The Billings school board approved Monday night an $80,000 project to replace the Rose Park Elementary main water line.

The district hopes the project will fix a serious problem of lead in water at Rose Park, which also plagues many schools in Yellowstone County.

According to a study done by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), 49 of the 55 school buildings in the county that have been tested have shown the need for at least one fixture to be replaced due to high amounts of lead.

Billings Schools Facilities Director Scott Reiter said the lead in school drinking water has been the district's top priority since a study was conducted two years ago, showing serious problems.

"It's a very important thing to have clean drinking water," Reiter said. "Nobody wants lead in their water."

Since the results came out, Reiter and his team replaced as many of the faulty faucets as possible and covered the others in plastic so that students couldn't drink out of them. Reiter said the original work was to make sure each school still had drinking water available.

"Our first goal was to make sure that every school had some clean drinking water in the school, where students could fill their water bottles or what not," Reiter said.

The patchwork hasn't completely solved the problem, and the process of replacing every bad faucet has been aggravating. Reiter said they face major funding and scheduling restraints in making these fixes.

"Last year, we replaced fixtures up until we used up our allocation," Reiter said. "(Workers) can't just spend the next three or four months fixing fixtures without addressing anything else that's needed at the schools. It's frustrating, but we'll get through it."

Reiter's frustrations are felt by many others around the state. According to Greg Montgomery with the DEQ, the state has received samples from about 480 of the 590 school buildings in the state. Nearly 74% of those schools have had at least one faucet with lead problems.

"Most schools have had at least one fixture over our action level of five parts per billion," Montgomery said in an online web interview. "Lead is pretty prevalent. It's been used in plumbing material for hundreds of years so I'm not really surprised."

While Montgomery might not be surprised by it, he is working to help fix it. A grant through the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as $3.7 million in funding through the state, has been allocated to help remove lead from water in schools.

"Those can cost a few hundred dollars to replace up into tens of thousands if it's found in the plumbing," Montgomery said.

Reiter said the funding isn't enough, and the district has to jump through a lot of bureaucratic hoops to obtain more money. That is why the project has taken longer than Reiter hoped.

"Just in the back of your mind, you know it needs to be done and it has to get done and you're trying to get it done as soon as you can," Reiter said.

The good news is that a lot of progress will be made this summer. Rose Park will receive a brand new mainline, and Reiter said the other faucets around the district will continue to be replaced.

"Realitstically, I'd be really happy if we could get them all completed by the end of the summer in 2025," Reiter said. "We'll see if we're able to get there."