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ASRWSS, Dry Prairie Continue To Provide Water Services During Pandemic

Assiniboine and Sioux Rural Water Supply System general manager Ashleigh Weeks reported, 'the Eagle Shield Water Treatment plant and other facilities of ASRWSS are functioning normally during the coronavirus crisis. Water treatment plant operators, field staff and office staff are taking sound protective measures to avoid infection and absence from their regular duties. Water users will continue to receive safe, adequate and reliable water deliveries.”

Pursuant to the guidance issued by the Department of Homeland Security-Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the Assiniboine and Sioux Rural Water Supply System is an essential drinking water system. The ASRWSS provides clean, potable water to over 20,000 residents — in addition to schools, health care facilities that include hospitals and dialysis services, and other businesses — in northeast Montana.

Board of directors chairman Bill Whitehead said, “Functioning critical infrastructure is imperative during the response to the COVID-19 emergency for both public health and safety, as well as community well-being.

Therefore, the ASRWSS has and will continue to operate to provide this essential service.”

Weeks also provided the following press release from EPA on the impact of coronavirus on drinking water to assure residents in northeastern Montana that their tap water is not a source of infection: There is no higher priority for EPA than protecting the health and safety of Americans. EPA is providing this important information about COVID-19 as it relates to drinking water and wastewater to provide clarity to the public. The COVID-19 virus has not been detected in drinking-water supplies. Based on current evidence, the risk to water supplies is low. Americans can continue to use and drink water from their tap as usual.

Weeks said that construction during 2020 will begin in rural areas of the reservation in late April and early May with two-man and three-man crews on the east and west sides of the Fort Peck Reservation. Macon Construction and Bridges Construction will be the principal contractors.

Connections will be made to individual homes in the south half of the eastern half of the Reservation between the Poplar River and Big Muddy River where branch line construction is completed, tested and disinfected. Connections should be completed by late summer. Branch lines in the north half of the east half of the reservation between the Poplar River and Big Muddy River will be completed this summer, and connections to individual homes will be completed in summer and fall. Connections will serve about 750 people in this eastern rural area, including the Town of Reserve.

The main pipeline between Wolf Point and Lustre will be constructed throughout 2020. The mainline will serve four phases of branch line construction that will eventually complete the rural water system within the reservation and serve the remaining 1,050 residents on the western side between the Poplar River and Porcupine Creek.

Phase one of the branch line construction will begin this summer and continue throughout the year. The area is between Wolf Creek and the Poplar River in Roosevelt and Valley counties.

Public works construction for water system infrastructure is an allowable activity under reservation and state 'stay-at-home' orders. The contractors are aware of the need to provide distancing. Residents in the areas under construction are encouraged to contact Weeks at 768-5719 for more information.

“The landowners on the east and west sides of the reservation have helped immensely in providing easements,” Weeks said. “We are finished with that process on the east side and are working with very helpful people on the west side. The response is very good, and everyone should know that we appreciate it. The virus has slowed down the ability to get easements executed, but staff will be contacting landowners to complete the process for a few dozen outstanding easements. We have procedures to ensure safe-distancing with landowners and notaries executing the easements.”

In 2020, ASRWSS will provide drinking water to more than 21,000 residents in northeast Montana, including government agencies, Poplar Schools, Poplar hospital, Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Fort Union Trading Post National Historic site, as well as the towns of Poplar, Wolf Point, Frazer, Brockton, Fort Kipp, Reserve and Lustre on Fort Peck.

The ASRWSS Eagle Shield Water Treatment Plant also delivers water to Dry Prairie for Culberston, Bainville, Froid, Medicine Lake, Plentywood, Nashua and St. Marie. Joni Sherman, manager of Dry Prairie, said previously that Dry Prairie will be serving Scobey, Flaxville and Westby. Dry Prairie will serve over 10,000 people in our towns and rural areas.

Whitehead stated, “ASRWSS and Dry Prairie received a record level of funding for construction in 2020. Our project remains at the highest priority for the Congressional Appropriation Subcommittees and the Bureau of Reclamation. The successes and cooperation between the parties is highly regarded and cited as exemplary for other projects. We are nearing completion of construction and will be the first to finish in the current generation of rural water projects. Most construction will be completed in 2022, but some will carry over into 2023.”

Whitehead also noted that operation, maintenance and replacement funding for the project is being appropriated at levels needed to fully perform all water delivery activities with state-of-the-art best practices. Funding is secured for 2020 and 2021.

Whitehead commented on repair of a major leak west of Oswego last month that affected service for about 18 hours. He was deeply concerned for homeowners, mainly between Oswego and Frazer during the outage. He commended the staff and Agri-Industries for finding, repairing and disinfecting the affected facilities.

'My board of directors received a full report on the leak, which is expected during freezing and thawing this time of year, and we were impressed by the responsiveness and by the improvement in procedures that will continue to shorten down-time in the future,' Whitehead said.

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