Faulty instruments forced a water treatment plant that serves Crow Agency in Montana to shut down last Thursday and it still remains in place.
Charles Dillon, plant operator for the Apsaalooke Water and Waste Water Authority, confirmed the closure and said they are awaiting review from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to resume operation.
A second treatment plant, run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, remains operational.
On Sept. 30, the EPA issued a boil order for those who use the water. The order said two surveys of the facility showed instruments weren’t working at the site and “there can be no assurance that the water has been adequately treated to meet the standards of the Safe Drinking Water Act.”
It’s unclear whether Crow tribal administrators implemented the boil order.
Dillon said he disagreed with one finding in the EPA report and that another had been remedied. But he shut down the facility pending another review from the federal government.
“I told them, in lieu of a boil order, I would put in place a self-imposed cease and desist order on the plant,” he said.
The tribal water treatment plant pulls water from the Little Bighorn River and serves 1,300 residents. According to the EPA, two site checks ended up performed in September.
The first was on Sept. 6. An EPA contractor found an instrument that measures water turbidity was “not operational and the data being recorded was not accurate,” according to the order.
Turbidity refers to the amount of particulate matter in the water. High turbidity causes water to be cloudy and can contain harmful particles.
Dillon said this was remedied within days.
“I can assure you that the faulty equipment that was noted in the EPA’s press release was restored to proper working condition on Sept. 8,” he said.
During a subsequent visit from the EPA on Sept. 21, an EPA staff member found the chlorine analyzer was not operational. Readings on the analyzer showed a chlorine value, but separate samples taken by the EPA staffer showed no chlorine, according to the order.
Water treatment plants chlorinate the water as part of treatment. The EPA finding was that water was not being chlorinated “for an unknown period of time.”
Dillon maintained there was always chlorine present in the treatment process and that the EPA staffer made a mistake.
Nonetheless, the EPA attempted to contact the Crow tribal administration and issued its order, determining that the water could not be properly tested. Dillon closed down the plant.