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'The best we can': Hysham school dealing with undrinkable water for months

Bottled Water
Posted at 8:36 AM, May 24, 2023

HYSHAM - For months, the community of Hysham has been dealing with undrinkable water, forcing the school in town to make serious changes to their day-to-day operations.

Hysham's one K-12 school, home to 79 total students, has shut off all water fountains and has been preparing food with bottled water since February.

For parents like Julie Southers, the water situation has become a part of her everyday life. But she said her stress increased when it started affecting the lives of her two kids in school.

Southers

"There is a concern, and we need help," Southers said. "We do need help. We need the water to be fixed as soon as possible."

In January, the town's water-treatment plant began having problems filtering chemicals from the water, prompting the Montana Department of Environmental Quality to advise all residents to boil water before consuming. Four months later, the problems at the treatment plant continued, and the agency issued an order stating the water was not safe to drink. Bottled water was brought in for residents, but the situation remained a challenge for larger water users,including the BW Grill, the town's only restaurant, which shut down.

Southers said she believed in the resilience of her town and knew that they would respond.

"I was worried, but I knew it wasn't going to crush us, if that makes sense?" Southers said.

The school has adapted to the undrinkable water by turning off all water fountains in the hallways. They also have been forced to cook with bottled water and are opting to use paper plates and plastic forks to cut down on dishwashing.

"We've adjusted to it," Hysham Superintendent Willie Thibault said. "We've been going now with bottled water for, oh jeez, probably since February."

Hysham Lunch

Thibault said that the community has rallied to help solve the problem and that donations of bottled water were made to help cut down on expenses.

"It hasn't been that expensive because we've used bottled water that we didn't buy," Thibault said. "It's worked out. We try and get a lot of it locally and then we've had some awesome businesses here that have donated bottled water to the school."

The water is still on in the school so that students can use the restroom and wash their hands. Thibault said that their focus has been on maintaining the educational experience, while keeping everyone safe.

"Our priority is keeping our students and staff safe, and we're doing the best we can," Thibault said. "We have not let it affect our education and that's why we are here."

Southers said the school has done a great job at handling it the best that they can.

"They did everything they could to make sure that school stayed in session, which is incredibly important," Southers said.

Thibault said they are working closely with the health department and are hopeful that the water will be usable by the beginning of next school year.

Thibault

"It kind of happened at the best possible time because this is our last week of school," Thibault said. "We're pretty confident that the situation will be dealt with by next fall."

And while his students have dealt with unprecedented challenges to end their school year, Thibault, a Miles City native, said it's just a part of living in a rural community.

"I can't imagine a huge school going through this," Thibault said. "Typical rural Montana, you know, there are challenges every day and you just take the challenges and do the best you can."