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Water quality issues continue in Havre and Hill County

Havre Water Crisis
Posted at 3:29 PM, May 02, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-03 13:32:31-04

HAVRE — Since April 19, residents of Havre have been under a precautionary "Boil Water Advisory." It comes as the Montana Department of Environmental Quality found Havre's water facility was pushing out water which did not meet the standard.

“Violations were issued for treatment technique violations, which means disinfection and filtration at the water treatment plant was unable to prove that they treated the water to the minimum required standards from the Safe Drinking Water Act and Montana public water supply laws," explained Lisa Kaufman, Water Supply Bureau Supervisor with DEQ.

Last week, Mayor Doug Kaercher told MTN News that the DEQ and the federal Environmental Protection Agency conducted an observation of the city's water facility. MTN asked Kaercher if the cases of Giardia are linked the Havre's water system.

Doug Kaercher Mayor Havre

He stated, "Google it. Look up giardia and see all the different areas it could come from besides the public water system... Right now, it's not linked to the City of Havre's Water System."

That statement is from a Monday meeting at City Hall.

With those statements and public concern, MTN talked with Cody Miles, a Hill County resident and former hydroponic farmer growing organic produce.

"One thing leads to the next. First the fill station went down. Stayed down, took forever to get fixed. Next, we have a giardia problem. Say it does come for the city of Havre. What’s the third thing to happen?” Miles said.

Cody Miles

Miles has pushed back against the City and its public fill station. His greenhouses used two hundred gallon tanks of water sometimes twice per day. After issues with the payment system and excess water waste, his business became an extra cost. He shut down business and moved onto a new venture, a mobile pizza kitchen.

Finding income for his family became his top priority and much of the product grown in his greenhouses went into he latest venture, The Stack Farm Fired Pizza. Since the growing concern of water in Hill County — Miles put a $2,000 water filtration system inside his home. It was a choice, Miles felt was best for his customers, product, and family.

"I get upset because I don’t want to see people go through what I went through. What my family went through," he exclaimed.

As Miles becomes more frustrated looking for answers on the outskirts of town — head back in the city limits to find Sherry Daniel, a lifelong Havre resident.

“I’m not one to buy a lot of bottled water, so I have to pay how much for this?" Daniels said laughing.

Sherry Daniel

What's funny in conversation has a real downside to her family's day to day life.

With a boil water advisory in effect for nearly two weeks, Daniel grew concerned of her 86 year old mother in law.

"Luckily she already uses bottled water." Daniel said. "She had no idea of the boil advisory. She doesn't use the internet. She doesn't use Facebook. She gets the paper, but she still had no clue without my husband and I telling her."

Daniel has concerns with the city and its chosen method of communication with the public.

“She didn’t get any notice. She didn’t get anything in the mail. That would’ve been the best way to notify her," added Daniel.

Daniel argues much of the population doesn't use the internet. The dangers of her elderly family member boiling water is an unreasonable ask.

MTN News, other media outlets, and social media accounts reported the initial Boil Water Advisory on April 19th.

"When is our city government going to work for us? I don't know how long we can live like this," she said. "I almost want to say show me the forms where you test the water in my house and it says it's okay for me to drink."

Currently, the City of Havre has taken the precautionary mentions provided by the DEQ and EPA to promote safe water for Havre residents. Those measures don't lift the boil water advisory. As of MTN's visit with the Mayor on Monday, notification to public on the boil advisory was not posted in windows or community bulletin boards at city hall. MTN found numerous business with the advisory posted throughout their storefronts and buildings.

Hill County Public Health Officer Kim Berg told MTN News that the city has its own requirements per standards of the DEQ and EPA. The Public Health Department wants everyone to be notified of the current status and new changes, and has taken steps to notify the public on numerous platforms.

Kim Berg

"We want everybody to know about it because we want our public to be able to take the steps, they need to to protect themselves and protect others." Berg told MTN.

Berg says Giardia is a parasite that is found in feces contaminated water. She said with branding season around the bend, its possible it can become more prevalent in Montana waterways. The side effects of infection are nausea, cramping, and diarrhea. Stool can become a "slimey" consistency and be found floating in a toilet bowl. She recommends if you suspect you've become infected to contact your healthcare provider.

If you had GI problems dating back to the beginning of the year, the Hill County Health Department created an online survey to track potential exposures to giardia. Click here to submit your response.

As residents in Havre continue to ask the question of how this could happen to them, MTN asked the Berg and the City if giardia is linked back to the public water system.

Berg stated, "I can't confirm that it's the water system at this point," adding, "...it's still a suspected source."

Mayor Kaercher and Director of Public Works Director Trevor Mork both said the same while the DEQ said otherwise.
 
"Absolutely. The state epidemiologist notified the DEQ that the number of Giardia cases in Hill County was abnormally high. And the only commonality for the source of the Giardiasis was Havre’s water system," said Kaufmann.

Lisa Kaufman

Following a Monday interview with the City of Havre and a Tuesday interview with the DEQ, MTN reached out to the Director of Public Works via phone.

MTN contacted Public Works and asked for Mork. After being put on a brief hold the Mayor hopped on the phone. MTN asked if DEQ contacted the city prior to the Monday meeting.

The mayor claims he was still under the impression giardia was not linked to the city water facility.

Following the conversation with the Mayor, it was released to MTN by Mayor Kaercher the water facility's "SCADA" system, or the record keeping computer, went down February 22.

The city had been unaware of the broken system and Mork told MTN News that water records were kept by hand from an engineer.

The handwritten summaries and records is what was released to the DEQ and EPA. Mork said the system is fixed.

He also told MTN the cost to fix the system was approximately $5,000.

On Monday, Kaercher told MTN the city's water facility is approaching the 20 year mark and is still well within its lifespan.

MTN asked the DEQ according to conversations with residents if they would take control of water treatment facility operations.

DEQ said, “I want to be clear. This is the City of Havre’s system. It’s up to them to comply with the rules.”

The City of Havre must comply with regulations in place - failing to do so puts a dim light at the end of the tunnel.

“The citizens want you to be held accountable, too. And if you're not doing your job, then maybe somebody else needs to do it," Miles added.

On Monday, May 7, 2024 at 7pm in the Havre Council Chambers, the regularly scheduled City Council meeting will be held.

"I’ve lost the trust in our local government right here." Daniel said.

Miles continued, "Keep the water flowing and keep the water clean. It's a simple task. If we need to focus on that for the next two years, a year, or six months, three months, let's focus on that."