City of Kalispell Obtains Funding to Treat Forever Chemical-Contaminated Drinking Water and Replace Wells

The municipality is working toward solutions to meet new federal regulations and to provide safe drinking water after forever chemical were detected in some of Kalispell's wells

By Maggie Dresser
Kalispell municipal tap water flows from a kitchen faucet on June 12, 2024. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Kalispell city officials are moving forward with solutions to treat and potentially replace a drinking water well on the northern end of the city that contains amounts of “forever chemicals” – man-made compounds that are linked to serious health risks – that exceed new federal regulations.

The municipality has procured funding from Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and federal grants totaling to more than $10 million that will be used toward water treatment and well replacements aimed to ensure Kalispell’s drinking water is safe and meets the new standards, Kalispell Public Works Director Susie Turner said at a June 10 city council work session.

The funding was granted after drinking water samples that were collected in March revealed that four wells in Kalispell exhibited detectable levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The Grandview #2 source located on the Flathead Valley Community College (FVCC) campus contains two compounds surpassing the Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs), which were established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on April 10. The rule applies to all community water systems and non-transient, non-community water systems regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Samples at Grandview #2 revealed 13 parts per trillion (ppt) of PFOS and 11 ppt of PFHxS, which are two compounds that are part of the larger family of chemical substances known as PFAS. EPA has set the MCLs to 4 ppt for these compounds.

The contaminants were also detected in the Grandview Well #1, Old School Well #1 and the Armory Well, but levels were below the limits.

“Some of the options we are considering is replacing the sources where we have detects … but we are also looking at treating the sources or blending the sources, which would reduce the concentration to a lower level,” Turner said.

After the samples were collected at the Grandview Well #2, city officials reduced the use of the water source, but that solution will not be sustainable as the summer water demand spikes.

“We are not able to supply adequate water supply through the summer without Grandview, so we do need to keep both Grandview wells in operation during the summer months because of our peak demand,” Turner said.

As part of a short-term solution, public works staff have proposed treating the water at Grandview #2 during high-demand months, which would entail an ion exchange treatment option. Rental equipment would be needed for the treatment and would cost between $281,000 and $452,000, according to Brad Koenig, a civil engineer with Robert Peccia and Associates who is working with the city.

The ion exchange treatment involves running the contaminated water through vessels containing a chemical media until it’s concentrated. The media then must be disposed of through incineration, which would require hauling it to the nearest facility in Denver or Salt Lake City.

Kalispell officials would likely need to use this method for two summers until the Grandview Well #2 can be replaced. Turner estimates a new well will cost $5.4 million, which would be funded with the small systems emerging contaminant grant and a second emerging contaminant SRF forgiveness grant, which total $10.8 million.

City officials are currently scouting new well water sources near Dry Bridge Park and Lawrence Park as possible sites to replace the Armory Well, which also has detectable PFAS but does not exceed the limit. Staff are looking at a site near Glacier High School to replace the Grandview Well #2. Test wells would initially be drilled to ensure there are no detectable levels of PFAS.

While the city is not required to meet the EPA standards until 2029, officials are working to complete the guidelines that have been outlined.

A building housing Grandview Well #2, located on Grandview Drive, is a well in the Kalispell public water system which exceeds federal standards for PFAS, a group of synthetic forever chemicals, pictured June 12, 2024. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

As part of the new EPA rules, the city has three years to complete the required monitoring of water sources at the well’s entry points and sampling must be completed four times in one year with all detections reported to the public.

By 2029, the EPA rule would be officially adopted, and the city would be required to comply with the recently established MCL regulation.

“We’re not out of compliance – we do have five years to come into compliance,” Turner said. “The short-term treatment does provide confidence to the public that we are doing the best we can to reduce the amount of PFAS being introduced into the water system at this time, but it’s not necessarily a requirement.”

PFAS have been used since the 1940s and are found in everyday products like Teflon cookware, water-resistant clothing, cosmetics and firefighting foam, according to the EPA. The contaminants are nicknamed “forever chemicals” because of their strong carbon fluorine bond, which can take more than 1,000 years to degrade.

Exposure to contaminants can cause metabolic disorders, decreased fertility in women, developmental delays in children, increased risk of cancer, and a decreased immune response.