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Gazette Staff

Absarokee residents can once again drink their tap water without having to boil it after the state Department of Environmental Quality determined it is free of E. coli bacteria.

The boil order was instituted Oct. 9 after coliform bacteria was found in a routine sample by the Absarokee water and sewer manager, Andy Jensen. The DEQ announced the lifting of the boil order on Thursday after several samples from the town's water showed no traces of the harmful bacteria.

The source of the contamination apparently was a 12-inch garter snake that made its way inside a reservoir tank and died, Jensen said. Jensen and DEQ officials removed the snake, disinfected the tank and flushed out the water system through the town's fire hydrants.

After the cleaning was complete, several water samples were taken at various points in the system and analyzed at a laboratory in Billings. None of the samples showed signs of coliform bacteria, the DEQ said in a memo.

Jensen said he will take five samples next month, rather than the usual single sample required by law. The DEQ has ordered him to take the extra samples to ensure that the system is still safe, he said. The system provides water to 470 users in Absarokee, he said.

Jensen got in touch with news media and mailed pamphlets to all the users to let them know the boil order has been lifted, he said.

"This is a heck of a way to make the news, but hopefully this will be the end of it," Jensen said.

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