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Governor inks bill to bring clean water to rural Pavillion

Mar 7, 2012 By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

Gov. Matt Mead on Tuesday signed legislation that received final approval by state lawmakers this month to allocate $750,000 in funding for installing cisterns at homes east of Pavillion affected by poor water quality.

The omnibus water construction bill, titled Senate File 47, includes the Pavillion east supply project that will also include a water loading station.

The project came at the urging of Mead, who is working to provide clean water to homes several miles east of Pavillion as investigation continues into possible contamination.

"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 at a meeting on the issue in Riverton on Feb. 6.

Probe continues

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is continuing to investigate possible groundwater contamination resulting from the practice of gas extraction known as hydraulic fracturing.

As groups continue to debate the agency's study released in December that cited a likely link between pollutants and the method of injecting liquid at high pressure into wells, Mead and others are focusing on water quality.

The bill is "structured so they're going to figure out how to do it and try to come up with a long-term solution to the water quality issues," state Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, said in a phone interview during the legislative session last month.

"One of the reasons that drives it is you have some people out there with quality issues but it's all the rest of the people and the devastation they have seen to their property values," Bebout said. "It's totally unfair to them, totally unfair to them."

Clean water options

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.

"It talked about cisterns because when you looked at the study last year ... it was so costly to try to put in any kind of a water line system because the density was not high enough," Bebout said.

"The other thing we wanted to do if they do the cistern thing ... that we do not in any way, shape or form jeopardize the water system for the Town of Pavillion," he said.

Landowner doubts

Not everyone is welcoming the project.

"Nobody has ever said how much is it going to cost," affected homeowner Louis Meeks said in a phone interview on Wednesday. "How much is it going to cost, and where are they going to get water?"

Meeks also questioned the quality of a cistern.

"Who wants a cistern?" he asked, noting that he previously had water storage containers at his home. "Both of them got bacteria in there so bad and all they did was load them up with chlorine."

Cisterns cannot meet all water uses at a home, he said.

"Another question is, What about my animals and my yard and my garden?" Meeks asked, adding that he received notification from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality.

"I just got a letter from DEQ stating my irrigation well and stock well are not very good for stock or garden because they found high amounts of uranium in it. ... It's in all three of my samples," he said.

Meeks also questioned the responsibility for paying to install the cistern system. "Why should I have to pay for something I had nothing to do wrong with? That's not right," he said.

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