Federal Officials Find Contamination in Crow Water System

Test found evidence of fecal material contamination that exceeded safety standards

By Justin Franz

BILLINGS — Tests results on a public water system serving 1,300 residents on Montana’s Crow Indian Reservation found evidence of fecal material contamination that exceeded safety standards, government investigators disclosed Thursday.

The contamination was found in tests conducted in April and May on the Crow Agency Water System, investigators said in a report issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Inspector General.

Fecal contamination can come from human or animal waste and indicates the possible presence of disease-causing bacteria and viruses. Sources can include improper wastewater treatment, runoff from manure and leaking septic systems.

The contamination was found in water from the Little Bighorn River that supplies the Crow Agency system, according to EPA spokesman Richard Mylott. That water is treated before entering the system that distributes water to residents.

The distribution system itself has not had evidence of fecal contamination in 12 years, Mylott said.

The agency in July offered the tribe several options to solve the problem but Mylott said there’s been no response to date. The potential solutions include additional monitoring at the water intake site on the Little Bighorn, additional treatment measures or coming up with a new supply source.

The inspector general’s report comes on the heels of the southeastern Montana tribe being unable to account for tens of millions of dollars it received from the U.S. government for water improvements and transportation projects.

About $13 million of the unaccounted-for money was intended for water system improvements. The money came from a $460 million settlement reached in 2011 with the U.S. government over the Crow Tribe’s historical water rights claims.

The inspector general’s office said those financial troubles were adding to concerns over the potential human health threats posed by drinking water contaminants.

“Financial issues may further limit the capacity for complying with drinking water requirements,” investigators wrote. “The Crow tribal government has not been able to regularly pay system operators for their services and cannot purchase critical supplies to operate and maintain the water systems.”

The report also revealed that EPA officials had issued notices of violation for two other reservation water systems after they did not perform required testing for contamination. The water systems for the communities of Wyola and Pryor combined serve almost 700 residents, three schools and a health clinic.

Crow tribal officials did not have immediate comment on the contamination in Crow Agency and lack of monitoring in Wyola and Pryor.

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