Hobson votes to tap into Rural Water System

Large infrastructure undertaking approved to bring reliable water years out
Thursday, January 19, 2023
Hobson votes to tap into Rural Water System

“Water is the heart of a community; without it comes stagnation and death,” said Tonya Shadrick with Montana Rural Water Systems, an agency that assists rural municipalities with their water systems and helps identify funding resources.

“Water, sewer and garbage are closely tied to health. Without these we have disease as well as inconvenience,” she added.

According to Moira Davin, public relations specialist with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, approximately 45% of towns in Montana do not have a water system, including Hobson. She noted to take these numbers with a grain of salt because they do not have access to tribal data.

In order to prepare for the future, as well as take steps to overcome existing water problems, Hobson has been looking into hooking up to the Central Montana Regional Water Authority’s Musselshell-Judith water pipeline.

The Central Montana Regional Water Authority (CMRWA) involves four wells, each thousands of feet deep, tapping into the Madison Aquifer. It will take an estimated 230 miles of pipeline to bring dependable, high quality water to 6,000 people in the region covered by the CMRWA (see map).

With the bid opening a year ago in January 22, Phase 1 of the project is underway. Construction on the decades-long project began earlier this summer, with Lewistown’s Central Drilling working on wells and pumps west of Garneill. Phase 2 includes delivering water to Roundup. Future phases are yet to be determined, depending on area communities’ interests and funding.

The goal of the CMRWA is to bring high quality water to thousands of users between Harlowton to Roundup, a vision the CMRWA has promoted for over 15 years, back when former Mayor Longfellow worked on it at the time. He was also chairman of the CMRWA for five or six years.

“Dale Longfellow tried to do this years ago,” said Engineer Garth French.

“From day one I’ve always felt there was a commitment to invest in community,” said Longfellow.

The council voted to move forward with connecting to the CMWRA’s Musselshell-Judith water pipeline on Dec. 21, which is Longfellow’s birthday.

“I could not have asked for a better birthday present,” said Longfellow.

Hobson’s water issues Hobson does not have a central water system. Residents may be connected to a well, spring, collection box, or even share a well with a neighbor. Many purchase their drinking water.

“We’ve had E. coli in wells and elevated nitrate levels in water samples tested,” said local engineer Garth French. “People are already treating their water with water softener reverse osmosis and UV disinfection.”

Samples are typically processed at Aqua Tech Laboratory in Lewistown, French explained.

French added, “One person may not be able to do laundry and run the dishwasher at the same time, and the next person will have good water and plenty of it.”

Hobson Mayor Loren Drivdahl said bacterial rust, high coliform and nitrate levels, and shallow wells and collection boxes are just a few of the issues that face Hobson water users.

With the extended drought, quantity becomes key.

“Several people lose water in the summer,” said Drivdahl. “When the football field is being irrigated it can cause wells to run dry.”

The school, regulated through the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, requires reverse osmosis in water softening as well as several wells. The fill station at the school is also a public water supply.

“With all that they are doing at the school, I don’t know what else could be done if standards become more stringent. The situation needs to be remedied,” said Drivdahl.

Tapping into the project

At the last Town Council meeting, held in December, Hobson voted 3 to 2 to join up with the CMRWA. Mayor Loren Drivdahl broke the tie vote. The two council members in favor of the project were Jay Wood and Kate Loose. The two against it were Madeline Forster and Jolene Martin.

“Due to the hard work of the City Council we’ve been successful moving forward on this massive project,” said Drivdahl.

There’s a lot of time involved to work on the infrastructure to prepare to connect the main regional pipeline. To join up with the Musselshell-Judith water pipeline, Hobson will need to install the infrastructure in town to connect to this pipeline, including a water tower and mainlines, and lines to each home.

“It is a huge undertaking, but it’s been years in the works,” said Drivdahl. “The town will need to install a 220 gallon water tank and dig up every street.”

Drivdahl noted that fortunately there is a lot of money through the infrastructure bill and millions earmarked at the state level through the governor to fund the $5.5 million project.

Feasibility

In September, Hobson agreed to hire WWC Engineering, with offices in Billings, Helena, and Wyoming, to conduct a Preliminary Engineering Review (PER) of the city’s water situation to determine feasibility, costs and potential next steps.

“Small towns with small water district make it more difficult to match grants, and they must have a rates structure in place to prove sustainability,” said Shadrick with Montana Rural Water Systems.

The PER, which included the polling as well as rate structures, is complete.

“We’re not shovel ready but we have done enough to get at the top of grants,” said Drivdahl.

Community Surveys During the regular scheduled council meetings in November and December, Hobson included two large public meetings that met a full room of residents at the school multipurpose room.

“We went out of our way to make sure we had a good voice from everyone it would impact,” said French.

To survey our interest, mailings were also sent to all individuals with properties in town, even if a property owner does not live in town.

“In the first survey, we wanted to get an idea of what water quality was like,” said engineer French. “In the follow- up survey, we asked if the residents would like a water system.”

In the second survey, 68% of those polled had a positive opinion on the project.

Rate estimates

As per the PER, even without any funding assistance to the project, which the town does not expect to be the case, the highest monthly rate was determined to total $135 per household. The town does not plan to pursue this project if this is the case and will ideally get the cost down to $70 per household. They have five years to work on it.

“The council will pull the plug if we can’t cut the overall rate cost in half,” said Drivdahl. “But I have every confidence that we will be able to reach our target.”

Drivdahl says the biggest criticism he and/or the council we received is from individuals on fixed income, especially individuals who already have good water. In this case they don’t need to see they need is to spend more. But that’s not every home.

“We live in a two house town,” said French.

Growth Potential for Hobson

“It was a long, long road, but I’m delighted we started it, and there are more grants available now than ever,” said Longfellow about the project, noting it is important for Hobson’s sustainment and growth.

In town, houses on shared wells have added challenges related to purchasing and selling a home or lot in town. Longfellow added investing in the community has been hindered by the lack of water system.

“The elevators in Moore couldn’t come here because we did not have a water system,” he said.

The new water system also ties into growth potential for the proposed Bull Run subdivision. Drivdahl said a test well was drilled down to 1,000 to 1,200 feet and it did not hit water. The subdivision is on hold until the water system can be offered for potential future homes.

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