PAVILLION, Wyo. -- Thirty-five homes outside Pavillion have the option of receiving a free cistern, or water tank, paid for by the state to ensure residents have clean drinking and household water.

Representatives of the Wyoming Water Development Office and Gov. Matt Mead's office presented the option and provided more details during a public meeting Thursday night in Pavillion.

Mike Purcell is director of the Wyoming Water Development Office. He told meeting attendees the state has funding to buy cisterns for the 35 households that fall within a specified area near Pavillion.

Wyoming officials have been looking for more than a year at how to supply clean drinking water to the Pavillion area after the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry told some residents to not drink the water.

The state Legislature set aside $750,000 earlier this year to help address the water quality problems that some blame on oil and gas development. The funding, if unused, reverts to the state in 2017, said Jeremiah Rieman, the governor’s natural resource policy adviser.

Residents will be responsible for filling the cisterns, which will hold between 3,000 and 4,000 gallons of water. The cost for hauling water was estimated at about $165 for 4,000 gallons.

People use about 80 gallons of water per person per day, said Jim Gores, the Wyoming Water Development Council-appointed contractor for the cistern project.

Preliminary studies show the town of Pavillion’s water system will be able to support the additional homes purchasing water to fill cisterns, Purcell said. The town’s water has tested safe for drinking.

Purcell said it could take six months to a year to get the cisterns installed, depending on the number needed.

Meanwhile, studies into the cause of area well contamination will continue. Residents who receive a cistern also agree to allow, if asked, testing of their wells. Without further testing, the cause of the contamination won't be definitively determined, Purcell said.

If the state finds hydraulic fracturing is the cause of the groundwater contamination, it will “take appropriate and swift action,” he said.

A full investigation into the water contamination could take up to 10 years, Purcell said. In the meantime, the state wanted to make sure Pavillion-area residents had a long-term water plan that didn’t involve buying household water in gallon jugs.

The cisterns are also available to homes in the area where water hasn't tested unsafe, but where property or resale values are suffering because of the area’s reputation for bad water.

One resident asked about getting a cistern but not using it. The woman said her water was fine, but in case she wanted to sell her home in the future, having the cistern would help its value.

Purcell said the state wanted to provide the cisterns for use, but he wasn’t sure about stockpiling them. He said it was something that would have to be discussed.

Residents who accept cisterns will also agree to disconnect existing private wells to avoid cross-contamination and to take responsibility for all cistern operations and maintenance, including any replacement costs after a one-year warranty.

The cisterns are just for household use, Purcell said. Public health and safety is the primary concern and the state couldn’t afford to extend the service to provide watering capacity for gardens and livestock.

The offer isn’t enough, said Louis Meeks, a Pavillion resident with contaminated water.

Landowners shouldn’t have to pay anything because of something that happened as a result of energy development, Meeks said. He doesn't understand why Encana wasn’t helping cover the cost.

“Why are we paying for something we didn’t do?” he said.

Meeks said he’s used cisterns in the past and there are issues, such as cleaning the tanks and the tanks rising in the ground.

Meeks said he wants a new water source drilled in a safe area, with water piped to the homes. He thinks Encana should cover the cost.

“They are trying to put a Band-Aid on something that needs major surgery,” he said.

Meeks noted that his water wasn’t suitable for his livestock and plants.

He also thinks he’ll need more water than expected and it will cost more than the estimated $165 per month.

Purcell urged residents to take a few weeks to think about the cisterns.

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