Montana Tech students tackle issue of Butte drinking water; is it safe?

2013-04-22T08:00:00Z 2013-04-28T10:57:04Z Montana Tech students tackle issue of Butte drinking water; is it safe?By Francis Davis Montana Standard The Billings Gazette
April 22, 2013 8:00 am  • 

Is Butte water safe to drink?

Two Montana Tech students recently produced a documentary video that addressed that issue, and concluded that it is indeed safe for human consumption.

Not everyone agrees with that conclusion, however, but that is part of the learning process for Cole Berg and Mariah Sheble. The students spearheaded their undergrad research project through the Professional and Technical Communications Department, along with mentoring help from assistant professor Nick Hawthorne.

They presented their 15-minute video, titled “Butte Water: Is it Safe to Drink?,” at the annual meeting of the Montana Academy of Sciences on April 13 at Tech.


The students hoped not only to dispel the belief that the drinking water in Butte isn’t safe, but also to get hands-on experience in video


“I’m not originally from Butte, and when I got here people told me, Butte water — don’t drink it,” Sheble said. “I thought it tasted fine.

You hear all these different stories about how bad it is for you. But in reality, it’s not. It’s super clean. That’s just something we were trying to get across to people in Butte and the rest of Montana. It’s not bad water.”

The students visited facilities such as the Moulton and Big Hole water treatment plants, and they set up interviews with experts before

completing their semester-long project with

long editing work on

the computer.

“It takes a lot of time and preparation,” Berg said. “We learned a lot. There were moments when we wanted to quit, for sure, because we had to put this on top of all our other school work, but in the end it was

definitely worth it to present it to a bunch of established faculty at Tech. That felt pretty good.”


Berg, 24, from Three Forks, is taking 22 credits this semester to finish his degree and graduate in May. Last summer, while on a fellowship, he earned a certificate from the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts, and after he graduates, he plans on heading to Californian to break into pharmaceutical sales, as well as acting, he said.

Sheble, 21, is from Valier. As a junior, she has another year of school, but said she hopes to work in graphics for a record label after she graduates.

Berg, who played football at Tech, said he found his way into communications after running into chemistry at Tech.

“It took some searching for me to find this program,” he said. “I could not get through chemistry. Eventually, I found this. I met with (professor) Chad Okrusch and he wowed me. Ever since, we’ve been taking steps on the digital communications side.”

The pair said they began their project with the assumption that the Butte water was safe. They did not explore in-depth the controversy around the subject nor set out to test a hypothesis.

Berg said the overall the reaction to their work has been positive;

however, in one of his classes, some of his fellow students remained skeptical.

“The general overall reaction was positive,” he said. “But we had a class the other day and Pat Munday showed it to the students, and a couple of them didn’t really believe it. They wanted us to include the other side, the skeptics. I guess the main thing is you’re always going to have your critics — you just have to go with what you got.”


Hawthorne, 31, and originally from Anaconda, stressed that the students weren’t coming at the project from a scientific angle.

“They are not scientists,” he said. “They’re not collecting water samples, and analyzing data. They’re getting facts about what’s going on with Silver Bow Creek from our new Chief Executive Matt Vincent, from well-respected scholars in our department such as Pat Munday, and from many articles.”

The professor said his goal was to help his students learn through the process of making their video, and he sought out “teachable moments”

to help them.

“My role in this was to make sure that they were getting the responses they needed to prove their points,” he said. “But it was also the production side of it — to make sure things were lit correctly, sound was where it needed to be, and things were cut clean.”

Berg said they couldn’t have done it without Hawthorne’s help.

“Nick was absolutely money,” Berg said. “There were some moments when the sound would be off and we didn’t know what to do and Nick would come in and make some suggestion. It helped so much to get through this. Those were the times when we were really fortunate to have Nick on the project with us.”

Sheble said she learned a lot, especially about condensing a lot of abstract material into a package that could interest a viewer.

“It was hard because there was so much we could have put into it, but we had to cut down on time,” she said. “There were a lot of things we found interesting that we couldn’t fit in. We could have had a half-hour video if we wanted to put everything into it.”

Hawthorne said he hopes the video will be available on Digital Commons in the future.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Follow The Billings Gazette

Popular Stories

Get weekly ads via e-mail

Deals & Offers

Featured Businesses