Interior Secretary, Tester Visit Water Plant
Bonnie Davidson / The Courier
Sen. Jon Tester and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell wear gift blankets from tribal members before touring the Assiniboine and Sioux Rural Water Supply System.
Bringing water to rural areas is a task that can be challenging. The Assiniboine and Sioux Rural Water Supply System (ASRWSS) is a state of the art water treatment facility that isn't going to just help the tribes, but could potentially help others in Roosevelt and Valley counties.
Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell visited the facility with Sen. Jon Tester at the end of several meetings with the Fort Peck Tribes and other tribes in Montana. The tour with tribes was to help Jewell learn what tribal leaders needed, and Tester brought her to visit the water treatment plant to show how well spent the federal funds were used.
The Fort Peck Tribe facility will eventually service the Dry Prairie project as well. This year they received around $9 million in funding for the upcoming fiscal year. Louis Beauchamp, the plant manager for ASRWSS, explained that the facility has begun the bidding process to add pipes from Frazer to Nashua.
"Our dream here, has become very real," Beauchamp said to the crowd of about two dozen on Sunday, March 16.
The tribal members mentioned that they were concerned about funding being cut from the project and they were assured that the doors would remain open and funds would continue. Employees Sandra White Eagle, who has been with the plant from the beginning, and Matthew James, who is new to the plant, were introduced before the tour.
Beauchamp explained that the plant is capable of much more than it's currently producing. The water facility can produce 14 million gallons per day, which adds to about 10,000 gallons per minute. Currently the facility is only providing to Popular and some rural homes off the main line. Hopefully after more work is done in the summer the water pipeline will connect all the way from Nashua to Big Muddy, where it hooks up to the Dry Prairie water lines.
"We're only at about a 5 percent capacity," Beauchamp said.
The state of the art facility is up to date on technology, with operators able to control and check functions on their smart phones and home computers. A full lab modern lab is also available to sample water. The conventional water system pulls from the Missouri River. The plant construction costs have totaled to about $193 million, with Dry Prairie's portion of the cost at $68 million.
Federal legislation states that the Fort Peck Reservation portion is to be fully funded, while Dry Prairie is to be funded partially; 24 percent of its funding comes from state and local sources from the sale of water and hook-up feels.
Beauchamp, originally from Colorado, explained that one of the interesting parts of the plant is that the Environmental Protection Agency monitors the plant, instead of having state guidelines. He said that sometimes there were some challenges with the arrangement. The tribes earlier in the day told Jewell that they wanted less bureaucracy in order to develop the economy and allow gas and oil business to enter reservation.
"I wanted to show the secretary what the money was used for and that the project is not done yet," Tester said. "The dollars were utilized and used well, this has been several years for this project."
The project started in 1992, when the tribes decided that the water problems in the reservation had to be addressed. Previous contamination in the groundwater had caused several wells to go bad in the area. In 1994, the system was redesigned and the project started to take shape. It expanded to help several homes outside the reservation facing similar water problems.
Jewell spent her time on the tour asking several questions along the way. She originally got her degree in engineering and commented that engineering had moved a long way since she was last in the business. She was impressed with the automation and the use of funds to build the facility. She also liked to see a young member learning the work and how the plant brought more employment to the area.
When the tour finished, the press had a few minutes to ask questions and Jewell commented that her overall perspective on Montana was how well the people in the state were able to collaborate and work together to get things done.
"It's a good example of cooperation in the state," Jewell said. "Landowners and environmentalists in all the areas have people trying to get a common understanding and understanding what's at stake here."