HYSHAM — Hysham residents have to boil their water before using it due to multiple failures and problems at the city’s water treatment plant.
Jessica Anderson, a Hysham resident, told MTN News on Friday that she’s fed up with the city’s water problems, which have been going on for nearly a year, and the heavy bills that come with it.
“Sometimes there’s more film in a cup of water than in a regular cup of coffee,” Anderson said.
Hysham business owners who wanted to remain unidentified told MTN they pay more than residents do for water and are losing money as they have to pay for bottled water and canned sodas in addition to monthly water bills.
A boil-water notice was sent to residents in late December, but Anderson said it’s not the first time the city has received a notice like this.
Anderson shared a photo of the water from his faucet with MTN that he took in March of 2022, before the first warning of boiling water.
Lisa Kaufman is Field Service Selection Supervisor at the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. She told MTN on Friday that this water problem is creating greater concern for the health of the community.
“It is a public health emergency and people are required to boil their water before consuming it. Especially those who are immunocompromised,” Kaufman said. “People who are very old or very young, who may be on chemo or have some other chronic disease that puts their immune system at risk. Take this seriously.”
But some residents are still drinking the water regardless of the warning, like Virgil Akhtenberg.
“I’ve lived here for 50 years, I’ve been drinking the water for 50 years, I’m still drinking it. There is dirty water in the city. But I know one thing, it’s too expensive,” Akhtenberg said on Friday. “With the new water tower and all that stuff, the price is high. I’m sure the (water treatment) plant is getting old, you know. . Probably. But can we afford it? That’s the thing.”
Kaufman explained that the events leading up to the boiling notice date back to the spring of 2022.
“They had some issues in March with the storage tank leaking, so they had to dump too much water so they could bring the tank levels down so the tank could be repaired. What we think happened then is that the City of Hysham had some water discoloration, and we think it was due to the runoff through the pipe collecting sediment that was left at the bottom of the pipe,” Kaufman said. “We were have been in close communication with the city since a routine sanitary inspection was done in April where we came up with a list of priorities, things that needed to be addressed at the water treatment plant so we could hopefully avoid this warning of boiling water”.
But the problems didn’t end there.
“Hysham had a mainline outage on 18th December which depressurized their distribution system. So on the 19thth, they reported it to us. A boil water warning has been issued,” Kaufman said. “In the course of addressing this, the 20ththe next day, we found that they too had treatment problems in the treatment plant.”
MTN News called the Hysham city office several times early Friday asking for comments from city officials. Twice the calls were disconnected and MTN was connected to Mayor Larry Fink after a third call. Fink declined an interview, as well as saying the city was working with DEQ.
After this story aired Friday night, Fink called MTN News and disputed parts of DEQ’s description of the water issues. He said the main water line didn’t break but it depressurized due to a malfunction.
Fink added that repairs and upgrades to the city’s water system will cost more than half a million dollars and says the city is working with the DEQ on a 90-day plan to resolve the issues. A community meeting will be held later this month.
Kaufman said the treatment issues discovered Dec. 20 involved the disinfection and filtration process at the plant, which he said was crucial due to Hysham’s water coming from the Yellowstone River.
“Because their water source is surface water, it needs to be both filtered and disinfected. The reason surface water qualifies for both filtration and disinfection is that not all pathogens can be killed by chlorine, which is the disinfection that the City of Hysham uses,” Kaufman said. “So you have what we call multiple barriers in that treatment train yourself so that if one thing fails the next thing can work, if it fails the next thing can work. Unfortunately at the Hysham Water Treatment Plant, all the stop points have failed. That’s why I’m on a boiling water alert.
Kaufman said the DEQ is assisting the City of Hysham, recommending short- and long-term plans.
“Our thoughts here at the DEQ’s short-term, 90-day boiling-water warning window will likely remain in place until we can bring the OS back and demonstrate that it’s consistently up and running,” Kaufman said. the long-term goals, which will include things like expensive upgrades, that sort of thing.”
Kaufman said the cost to water users is a major concern. A new water tower was built a few years ago and the cost was passed on to the water users.
“The water tower was built over five years ago and I know it cost them money in the form of loans so they have to pay it back. And those are usually 20-year notes, so the increase obviously in their debt is passed on to the users, so their water bills go up,” Kaufman said. so much for water, you know, so they have to be aware of what the water bills are. And that depends on the city.”
The cost of the water tower has caused residential water bills to increase, according to residents and the DEQ. Residents still pay monthly for the water they have to boil before drinking.
And as residents wait for costly repairs to be made, they say they feel ignored by their city’s leaders.
While residents wait for repairs to be made, they are forced to continue boiling water.
But Kaufman said this is a necessity for Hysham residents.
“You have to boil. One tip about boiling water is just that, don’t consume the water unless it’s been boiled first,” Kaufman said.
“You flush the toilet and it looks like it’s just cocaine in the toilet bowl or coming out of the faucets,” Anderson said. “I started buying bottled water.”