Friday, March 23, 2018

Mugga Rideshorse and Joe Buffalo Jr. load up cases of bottled water into a truck last Thursday afternoon at the Natural Resource Department garage in Crow Agency. These cases were distributed to local residents for several days before the town’s water treatment plant could successfully be tested.

Despite vandalism, Crow Agency water determined to be free of contaminants

Water has been tested and deemed safe for the 1,600-plus town of Crow Agency following a Wednesday, Oct. 4 incident where one of its two treatment plants were vandalized. As of Friday, a notice from the Crow Tribe’s incident command stated, they have “flushed the water mains as a precaution to make sure water is safe in all parts of the system.”
In the days leading up to the test, the tribe – unsure whether the water was safe – had distributed 40-packs of bottled water to affected residents, including Maria Howe, a mother in the local housing area. Though she hadn’t followed instructions not to shower in the water, Howe said last Thursday, she had used the bottles provided for cooking and drinking.
“Whoever did [the vandalism]…didn’t think twice or three times about the Crow or the children,” she said as her children played in the park nearby. “I have an infant, myself.
“Who knows how soon it’s going to get fixed, because our tribe – as you can see – is in critical condition,” she added, alluding to the possible Crow government shutdown due to financial troubles.
A Tuesday email by Nedra Darling, spokeswoman for Office of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, stated the cost for repairs has not yet been determined. Candy Felicia, director of the Crow Tribe’s Water Authority, estimated the cost at $1 million, the Billings Gazette reported. 
The incident command notice adds, “Until both plants are fully operating, we will not have our normal treatment capacity.”
“Barrels were shot through, wires were damaged and are being repaired,” Darling stated. “The whole plant was trashed and cleanup is in process. Exterior lighting and a [Bureau of Indian Affairs] vehicle were also damaged.”
An investigation by the BIA and FBI is ongoing, Darling stated, but she was unaware of any suspects or arrests. Travis Burrows, FBI Senior Supervisory Resident Agent in Billings, declined comment on the matter.
To conserve the water and keep it clean, incident command advised residents to follow two main steps. The first step is for residents to run one or two faucets in their homes for five minutes per day to help flush out the pipes.
“Please do not run the water longer than this because our water supply is already low,” the notice states. “During this flushing, residents may experience discolored water. This is caused by sediments trapped in the distribution system that were disturbed during the normal process of water main and pipe flushing.”
The second step, according to the notice, is to conserve water when possible “over the next few weeks.” Suggested methods of conserving water include taking short showers or baths, turning off the water to brush one’s teeth, and waiting for dishwashers or washing machines to be full before each use.
“[The Environmental Protection Agency] is working closely with the staff to ensure that the tribal plant is not started until it can produce safe water,” the notice states. 
Isaiah Stewart, legislative candidate for the Black Lodge District, doesn’t need to worry about the shortage, as his family hauls water from Hardin in a 1,000-gallon tank on a weekly basis. Nonetheless, he said last Thursday, he believed there should be round-the-clock security on the treatment plant to prevent would-be vandals.
“They said they had cameras, but instead of relying on cameras, there should be security,” he said. “The main priority is to watch that area.”
For more information, call the BIA Facilities Management Office at (406) 638-2390 or Crow Tribal Treatment Plant at (406) 638-2387.