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State proceeds with Pavillion cistern plan

Jul 12, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

Installation of the clean-water receptacles is likely to begin next spring.

Gov. Matt Mead's administration is pressing ahead with plans to install state-funded cisterns for residents east of Pavillion affected by poor drinking-water quality, possibly due to nearby energy development.

Homeowners within the designated vicinity of what's known as the Pavillion gas field who are eligible for the cisterns have until Aug. 15 to enlist in the program.

"That is the deadline so we can move forward on working on a design and having these built," Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Keith Guille said in a phone interview on July 12.

The agency is managing the project, while the $750,000 in funding for the project appropriated by the state Legislature earlier this year is coming from the Wyoming Water Development Commission.

Guille said installation of the cisterns should happen next spring.

"We only have a certain amount of time, and we certainly want to offer enough time for residents" to sign up for the program, he said.

The progress comes as investigations continue into determining whether the controversial practice known as hydraulic fracturing affected water quality in the area through activity in the gas field operated by Encana Corp.

A report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released in December on the water contamination cited a likely link to the technique that involves injecting various chemicals and substances into the ground at high pressure to force gas out.

Officials close to the investigations expect a peer-review panel to convene in October to review data collected. The group's work could lead to a conclusion about the contamination's source.

Mead and state lawmakers wanted to address the problems associated with water quality while debate is ongoing to determine the source.

"Some of the people who live in this area have problems with their drinking water, while others are being impacted by the perception about their water quality," Mead said in a statement issued July 10. "I am glad this project is up and running."

Guille said he is aware of seven residents expressing interest in the cistern program.

"My understanding is that they want to participate," he said. "Obviously it's still early."

The designated area has about 35 wells identified, while homeowners outside of the boundary who have water wells that test positive for hydrocarbons also are eligible to receive a cistern.

Participants will get a cistern system installed at their home, but they must pay for their own cost of water delivery that could hit $160 or more a month.

"The loading of the water, obviously that is going to be the responsibility of the resident," Guille said. "As for the cost, we don't have a cost yet because we're still in the design phase."

About 50 people attending a May 30 meeting in Pavillion about the cisterns heard discussion about each household system including a storage tank capable of holding 3,000 to 4,000 gallons of clean water -- a two- to three-week supply.

Participants in the program must allow the Department of Environmental Quality to access their existing water wells for monitoring and testing during the ongoing investigation.

Residents who utilize the state-funded cisterns will be able to get water from the Town of Pavillion's well infrastructure if they choose.

When asked if the town can provide the water, Pavillion Mayor Gary Hamlin on Thursday said, "Absolutely."

Hamlin said the town is continuing to work with the Wyoming Water Development Commission on a project to improve Pavillion's water infrastructure. He described the work as "upgrading and improving the efficiency of our system."

The state will fund two-thirds of the project, while the town must come up with the balance for the improvements. Hamlin said the total project cost estimate is $140,000, but he is expecting the price to rise.

"We're kind of exploring the financing part of it," he said. "But due to the lagoon we're finishing up, we're not going to have that split. But at a minimum, they're going to come in to put the filling station in" for the cisterns.

Residents interested in the cistern program need to call Karen Halvorsen, the Department of Environmental Quality's Storage Tank Program manager, at 777-7244.

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