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State may step in to get clean water to affected citizens

Feb 8, 2012 - By Martin Reed Staff Writer

Gov. Matt Mead and State Sen. Eli Bebout of Riverton are ready to approach the Wyoming Legislature this year to seek initial funding to help deliver clean water to some homes east of Pavillion.

During a meeting at Central Wyoming College on Monday attended by about 50 people, Mead stated his immediate priority in the ongoing investigation into poor water quality in the area.

"My issue is listen ... there is a water issue and we could spend a lot of time and a lot of years trying to figure out who to blame, but if there's an opportunity to get a better water system without trying to say who's to blame or what the situation is, let's do that," Mead said earlier in the day.

Whether Mead with the help of Bebout and others pursue funding this legislative session hinges on what the affected residents want for the handful of homes located in the vicinity of a gas field several miles east of Pavillion.

"With the senator's help, I am willing to push this forward," Mead said. "We need to know, are the people who are affected by this one way or another, are they at least interested?"

If the affected residents do not want the state's involvement in developing a system of delivering clean water, Mead will not pursue the funding.

His comments came as part of ongoing discussions concerning potential groundwater contamination in the area that some blame on energy development and the gas-extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing.

Following the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's investigation launched in 2009 concerning the matter, the Wyoming Water Development Commission contracted Riverton engineering firm James Gores & Associates to develop a study on possibilities to deliver clean water.

Options provided in a preliminary report released last September included the recommendation the affected residents form a water district capable of obtaining taxpayer funding in the form of low-interest loans.

Possibilities seemed cost-prohibitive with one plan of constructing a piped system utilizing the Town of Pavillion's water supply costing each home $715 a month, a treatment system for each residence's drinking well at a price of $175 a month or a cistern costing $250 a month.

Wyoming Water Development Office director Mike Purcell at the meeting said the study will explore how "to get this down to a reasonable price" for homeowners.

"What we are doing now ... we are preparing an addendum to the previous water report," Purcell said, adding that public meetings will happen in the spring.

The commission's final report released last October outlined five possible options that included a water treatment plant and central system costing nearly $3 million with a $1,225 monthly bill to homeowners.

The cheapest proposal was a private treatment system for the 20 homes in the planned water district at a total cost of $300,000 with monthly bills of $175 each.

The report ranked each of the five alternatives and showed cisterns as the best option but still the estimated cost is $382,800 total at a monthly residential cost of $250.

Using the Town of Pavillion's municipal water infrastructure was the second best option ranked but that would cost each homeowner $715 a month, according to the report.

"I think people here are very reluctant to sign on" to a plan due to the high costs, Bebout said at the meeting. "I would be very reluctant to sign my name if I'm looking at an $800 cost."

Purcell suggested utilizing the Fremont County Commission as an avenue to obtain public funding to help build the infrastructure.

"I think talking with the county commissioners maybe they can be of some assistance with the formation of an entity" to receive funding, he said.

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Legislature, Wyoming