City receives debt forgiveness towards Water Project
November 16, 2022
According to the North Central Montana Regional Water site website, "The Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy's Reservation and the State of Montana, through the Reserved Water Rights Commission, negotiated a settlement of the Tribe's Water Rights Claims. The Compact, ratified by the 1997 Montana Legislature and signed by President Clinton in December of 1999, provided a water allocation of 10,000 acre-feet to the Tribe from Lake Elwell (Tiber Reservoir), south of Chester, Montana. In addition to providing a water supply for the Tribe, the project was also expanded to provide water service to residents of Chouteau, Hill, Liberty, Pondera, Teton, Glacier, and Toole counties in Montana. On December 12, 2002, President Bush signed S.2017, the Rocky Boy's⁄North Central Montana Regional Water System (NCMRWS) Act of 2002 (PL 107-331, 116 Stat. 2859) as the final step in the federal approval process and the beginning of a project to improve the
quality of life for the Tribe and residents of north central Montana."
Mayor Shaud Swarzbach said, "Actually, it's interesting because the Marias River drainage is one of the few drainage ditches with quite a bit of unallocated water well. Water is becoming a very hot commodity. Of course, it ends in the Missouri River. There are places downstream that are starting to look at water resources."
I wanted to know if there was enough water for all the communities that are getting water from Tiber. "Oh, yeah. It's just a sliver. Back when I was involved on the board, the water treatment plant would have a capacity of roughly 30 million gallons daily. And I think that's been tweaked a little bit, maybe into the 20s somewhere. But it seems like a ton of water at the end of the day."
I asked him if I had heard that we would have water in 2024. "It's a magical chess game. That's the building being built right now next to the water tower; the water tank up, I think he's is the meter building. Plus, it'll have some capacity in there for water treatment. We shouldn't have to treat anything coming to our tank, but if we needed to disinfect the distribution system for whatever reason, we could do it from that direction. Right now, our building is on the flats by the wells. We disinfect this way. We saved the system. It would have cost a couple of million dollars not to go out to our building. So we horse traded on that they put up this little bit bigger building that would give us some other tools to manage that in town. We have to have good quality water; we can flush the lines after a break, you know, with disinfect." So they are trying to be proactive with this process. Basically, Shaud said, "It all comes back to taxpayer dollars. So if we can save somewhere, and it makes sense for the project. It makes sense for us."
Right now, we're in the design phase of upgrading our water building out there because we know how hard water has been to come by in this town for decades. So even though we're going to have this big, beautiful pipe delivered all the waters that we'll ever want, or need, unless we grow dramatically. We still want a reliable source, a backup source of water. They're treating the water, instead of using chlorine, like we do, they're using chlorine ammonia called chloramines to treat that water.
It helps the chlorine stay in the water longer. If you're to try to blend those waters, they don't play well together." They
don't plan on using the wells very much but exercise them each year, probably during the summer months, to offset what the city uses on parks and stuff. We'll blend it in slowly, so we don't adversely affect the water. This will be good water, and it'll be so nice to have good water. So we don't want to wreck that. Yeah, we want to ensure that systems are being used and exercised. It's important because, Let's say one of the big pipes is down for two weeks, you know, we lose our ability for Fire Flow."
"So I told you 100% cost share for the tribal entity. The other communities, like ours, were 80% Federal, 10% state, and 10% local match, so each one of the communities has skin in the game and has to pay. Our local match for the project was roughly a million dollars that could get through to the end of the project because it's taken so long. Yeah, you know, inflation and all that stuff. To stop the inflation for the town of Big Sandy, for the time being, we looked at an avenue of paying our share now even though we're not getting the water. We are paying it because we're going into a rising inflationary environment. We thought it would make sense to pay our share early in that process. The state also has, and I've known about this since being on the board, a debt forgiveness program they've offered to different communities with higher than average rates. The Department of Natural Resources Conservation does a rate study every two years, and you had to be up there to qualify. We're, by far, not the most expensive, but we are over that threshold that helped us qualify for debt forgiveness. So we put in for a million-dollar loan to fund our share of this pipeline. It's going to go in this next year, and then we turned around and applied for debt forgiveness. The state put a limit on it at $500,000 for debt forgiveness, but then I think they also had a pot of money, so they came back and looked at it. Last month gave us another good news, and they forgave another $250,000." It's excellent news for our community.
Water for the town of Big Sandy was one of the reasons Shaud decided to run for the city council. "I got on the council 22 years ago." Shaud believes our lines will be in place in 12 months and ready to take water, but whether the rest of the lines will be ready to go is a question."