BILLINGS- A certified third-party water operator believes it could still be a couple of weeks before a filtration system is in place and working to fix the ongoing issue of discolored water at a Billings mobile home park.
But the frustration from residents living in the Meadowlark mobile home community still runs high as many are reporting ongoing problems from no access to clean water.
Meanwhile, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality says regulators are awaiting test results on the water, which officials say they have no reason to believe will come back unsafe.
Inspectors with the DEQ were on-site at Meadowlark Monday to take three samples, but Lisa Kaufman with the Public Water Supply Bureau says when it comes to the discoloration that is flowing from people’s faucets, that has to do with the broken filter that helps get rid of iron and manganese in the water supply. She says the water is completely safe to drink.
“It doesn't mean that it's not safe. It just means nobody wants to drink it because it looks yucky,” she said.
She’s right. No one at Meadowlark wants to drink it because it indeed looks yucky.
Residents started to notice the dark brown and almost black colored water back in October, but Kaufman says it wasn’t until December that formal complaints started pouring into the agency about the water.
So, inspectors were sent out to see what the issue is.
A representative with Curb Box Specialists, the company servicing the water, said Wednesday that he expects sand to be back in stock and shipped to Billings in two weeks' time to fix the tanks that filter out the iron and manganese.
He said when that happens, the discoloration should end.
HavenPark, the company that owns the mobile home park, said that in recent weeks they’ve been using Curb Box Specialists to service the water and take samples as they wait for a newly hired handyman to start at their Montana property.
“That's really the only option we have is to wait for the parts so that that plant can be fixed and put back online,” said Kaufman.
Still, concerns remain that the water is not being properly tested, and many residents question how the water could possibly be safe to drink when it looks the way it does.
But Kaufman maintains the water is safe and that Meadowlark has records of consistent water testing with results coming back within safe drinking standards.
“The water is routinely sampled and for at least the last 10 years, they have had no bad bacteriological samples,” she said.
On Wednesday, as crews were doing repair work at Meadowlark’s water treatment facility, resident Jennifer Madden was again seeing the water from her taps run cloudy.
“I don't think we're being told the whole story,” she said.
She’s one of many residents who say they just have too many questions unanswered.
“It’s not fair to anybody,” she said. “And most of us out here have kids so the kids shouldn't have to live with this.”
She has been living in the community for the last 10 years and says she’s never seen the water situation this bad.
And along with a complaint about poor communication from Meadowlark and HavenPark, she also says that even though the owners say they’re handing out bottled water, she’s been forced to purchase it because office hours are not routinely maintained at the park.
“I go probably go through five cases a week at least,” she said. “So, we're showering in the water that's from the tap.”
Wednesday, representatives from HavenPark were inside the park’s office and pointed MTN News in the direction of a company spokesperson for comment on the ongoing situation.
HavenPark purchased Meadowlark in 2020, and a spokesperson said in a statement the well system is more than 60 years old and shows its age.
“A few weeks ago, a key part of the filter broke and has been on back-order for several weeks with no way to expedite its delivery. We remain hopeful it will arrive in the coming days, and we will install it immediately,” said the statement in part.
The spokesperson also says water samples are also sent monthly to Energy Labs, a water testing facility located in Billings, to do bacterial testing, and the tests have always come back as safe and are presented to DEQ as required.
“HavenPark completely understands the concern of residents and has been doing all we can to quickly repair the filtration issue, while also conducting daily testing to ensure the water remains safe to drink and use for bathing and washing,” the spokesperson said in the statement.
But while Meadowlark waits for that filter system to arrive, Madden says everyday life is complicated by the water issue. Her children are using bottled water to brush their teeth, it's bottled water for her pet’s water bowls and she’s even seeing clothes ruined after a load of laundry.
“I think that there's an issue with it,” she said. “It's a little brown if you put it in a cup throughout the day. But in the morning, you can tell just by looking at it.”
But her biggest worry is the health of her family.
“I have kids with a genetic disease. If they get sick, it's a lot more severe than just you know, a little bit of sick,” she said.
Kaufman said the results on the water samples should be available at the end of the week, but that being said, she again has no reason to believe results will show the water is unsafe.
“The water was sampled on the 17th of January by the operator and the previous operator sampled it on Dec. 3, and again both of those samples came back with satisfactory results indicating that the regulations for public water supplies are being met,” she said. “They aren't really health effects at this point, they are aesthetic.”