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Worden Ballantine Water District asks Yellowstone County to share federal COVID relief funds for permanent water fix

District residents without clean drinking water since 2019
Posted at 4:26 PM, Jun 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-18 20:07:17-04

Worden- The Worden Ballantine Yellowstone County Water District has asked Yellowstone County commissioners for federal dollars coming from the American Recovery Plan Act to help resolve continued water issues.

District chair Dan Ewen and Board member Gary Fredericks passed along the request Wednesday morning and gave an update on what the water district has done to fix drinking water problems that have plagued the area since May of 2019.

That’s when the district received a nitrate violation in its current water source, creating the situation unsafe to drink for residents.

“We realized right away we needed to try to get in on this,” said Fredericks. “We put together a proposal for the county and two phases. Phase four and five, the first three being our water source replacement phase four and five is the infrastructure that hooks to.”

Yellowstone County is set to receive $31 million in federal funding, and those with the water district say water projects are eligible.

The district is asking for roughly a third of that price at $9.5 million for phase 4 and phase 5, which would reconstruct infrastructure to accommodate for larger and more secure water transmission lines.

For two years, those living in Worden, as well as Huntley Project schools, have been forced to use bottled water or treat water.

Ballantine resident Jamie Lofing says her family has struggled with it.

“It's taken a lot to get used to,” she said. “It's definitely not convenient to have to pack one of these around every couple of days.”

Her family buys Culligan water to store in the kitchen for cooking and drinking, which is also an added cost every week.

“And it's a little bit of an additional cost, you know, it's just one more thing, monthly bills, what are we going to spend on the water this month,” said Lofing.

Ballantine, Worden Huntley, and Pompey’s Pillar are all part of Yellowstone County, so the district is sending out a formal request that the county consider funding all or a major portion of Phase 4 and 5 improvements necessary to bring the water system up to current standards.

In the letter, Fredericks says the district has been working diligently with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality to fix the situation.

“We have identified a new source of drinking water for the District utilizing groundwater wells and are finalizing funding from the USDA Rural Water program to finance the first three required phases of the project," he said.

So far, the district says it has $100,000 in reserves along with $4.8 million in a rural development loan that will have to be repaid through a bond paid back by property owners and water users and grants.

Fredricks says this request could be a last-ditch effort because all other are options are a gamble at best, with no funding guarantees.

Yellowstone County commissioners are reviewing the request, but the district has given them a deadline of July 1 for an answer.