Residents in the Worden Ballantine Yellowstone Water District are being told to drink bottled water and not consume tap water.
An advisory was issued on Tuesday by the state Department of Environmental Quality, warning residents the water produced by the Worden Ballantine Yellowstone Water District is no longer safe to drink.
The water district was already under an advisory to keep infants from drinking the tap water due to elevated levels of nitrates. The new advisory now includes all residents but doesn't point to a specific containment.
The problem for the water district has been groundwater that somehow has come in contact with contaminated surface water.
"We have not had any luck finding the source of this contamination," said Gary Fredricks with the Worden Ballantine Yellowstone Water District.
The water district has been testing its water regularly to monitor the level of nitrates. A month ago, the DEQ and the water district tested the groundwater for microbiological agents, the results of which came back this week.
The test showed microbiological contaminants in the water, but all of them were treatable by the chlorine process the water district uses, Fredricks said.
The worry is that some kind of contaminant not treatable by chlorine could get into the water before it's detected, since the source of the contamination is still unknown.
"Just because we didn't find any (contaminants) doesn't mean they're not out there," Fredricks said.
RiverStone Health, which also operates as the Yellowstone County Health Department, issued a statement Tuesday warning water district residents.
"The current disinfection system is not effectively treating the water and therefore needs additional disinfection and filtration to meet surface water treatment regulations," said John Felton, Yellowstone County health officer.
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Huntley Project Schools, where classes begin Wednesday, are in the water district and under the same ban.
Superintendent Mark Wandle reached out to American Water Technologies, a local bottled water supply company, to bring water into the schools for the foreseeable future.
"Wherever we have water fountains we have a water dispenser," he said.
In all, the school ordered 18 dispensers and 48 5-gallon bottles of water. Wandle praised American for working so quickly to help the school district and in giving them a break on the price.
Moving forward, the district is looking at installing some kind of filtration system so that they can continue to operate should the water district have more contamination issues in the future.
The Worden Ballantine Yellowstone Water District has one pallet's worth of bottled water to give to residents. Officials there have been handing them out all summer for residents who have infants in their home; elevated nitrates levels are deadly to babies 6 months old and younger.
The bottled water at the water district office still will be reserved for those residents with infants in their home, Fredricks said. Other residents will have to secure their own bottled water, he said.
"We don't have enough bottled water or even the funding to provide bottled water," he said.
Barbara Schneeman, public information officer for RiverStone and the county health department said they have no plans to provide bottled water to residents in Worden and Ballantine.
"It's up to the water district," she said.
The water district is holding a community meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday in the community room at Huntley Project High School. Fredricks said they hope to have more answers at that point.