The Jefferson County Commission allocated $250,000 each to the Basin and Clancy water and sewer districts, out of the $891,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds the county received for local water and sewer projects, leaving almost $400,000 remaining. The remaining funds could be distributed to private subdivision water users associations.
The two district boards had each requested $500,000 from the funds, referred to as ARPA's "bucket B" of available monies, but Commissioner Cory Kirsch said at the commission's July 13 meeting that if the county gave Basin and Clancy the full $500,000 that each asked for, it would leave none for subdivisions' water users associations. Jefferson County’s water users associations—entities that collect money from water users in some subdivisions to maintain private water and sewer systems—had not told the commissioners how much money they needed by the July 13 meeting. These bucket B grant funds require a 68 percent match, Kirsch said.
"We’re shooting in the dark," Kirsch said, adding that he previously met with the Forest Park and Saddle Mountain water users associations and "pleaded" with them to give him an estimate of how much money they need. "So now we’re kind of sitting here not knowing their needs," he said.
Despite not knowing the subdivisions’ needs by the July 13 meeting, Kirsch said the county still had to allocate the bucket B funds at the meeting because the water districts were both submitting applications for competitive grants from the ARPA "bucket C" funds, which were due on July 15, two days after the commission meeting. The district water and sewer boards needed to know how much money they were receiving from bucket B because both districts were going to use those monies as matching funds for the bucket C grants, he said.
"We wanted to fund the districts as well as we could, because that money could also be leveraged for more money," he said, referring to the districts using the bucket B money as matching funds for other grants. "So you’re getting more bang for your buck," he said, adding that the water users associations were not applying for bucket C money.
County Planner LaDana Hintz said at the meeting that Clancy and Basin were in greater need of the money.
"Those guys do need some assistance, or some of those projects just can’t happen. We can’t just leave them hanging out there if we want to see growth and development," she said.
Commission Chair Leonard Wortman said that the county’s water users associations are just as entitled to the bucket B funds as the districts. Kirsch added that the water users associations might not use all $400,000, in which case the remaining funds could go to Clancy or Basin, depending on need.
Basin bets big on ARPA
According to Basin Water and Sewer District Board President Jason Norman, Basin applied for almost $1.7 million from Bucket C, and will be using the $250,000 from bucket B and a $400,000 state revolving fund from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation as matching funds for the $1.7 million bucket C grant. The $400,000 DNRC revolving fund requires the district to pay back half of the money it uses, according to Norman. At previous meetings, members of the community were apprehensive about using the money when 50 percent of it must be paid back. Kirsch said there was no public opposition at the Basin board's July 14 meeting to utilizing the DNRC fund.
According to Norman, although there is no required percentage to put up as matching funds for the bucket C competitive grant, if the district provides a greater match, it has a better chance of receiving money. He said that match money is one of the criteria in a points system by which applicants are ranked.
He said that if Basin Water and Sewer District were to receive the competitive bucket C grant, the district would replace all the water service lines that run from the main water lines to each building. He said that most of the current lines leach copper into the water, so the district has to treat the water with chemicals to prevent contamination. Additionally, he said, the system is losing "a lot of gallons a day," and the board believes there are leaks in the service lines. The board has checked Basin’s main lines and didn’t find any leaks, he said.
"The water’s going somewhere. Some of those [service] lines going to the homes and business, I’ve been told, are over 80 years old," he said. He said that replacing the service lines is estimated to cost $480,000.
The Basin board is also considering digging new wells, Norman said. Basin’s two wells, which are directly next to each other, currently do not meet state standards, he said. During Basin's highest demand periods, both wells work together to pump about 144 gallons of water per minute, he said. However, each well is only capable of pumping 100 gallons per minute, so if one well was out of service, Basin would not have an adequate supply of water, he said. He added that Basin’s wells are in an unprotected aquifer, which makes them more likely to be contaminated. Because the wells are right next to one another, if one well were to be contaminated, the second would likely follow, he said.
The board wants to drill at least two new wells, preferably in a protected aquifer, Norman said. Drilling each well would cost $275,000, he said.
He said that the board wants to upgrade the wells' chemical injection system because the current system of manually injecting treatment chemicals exposes workers to the chemicals. The plan also includes installing a backup generator for the existing wells, so that if Basin loses power, residents can still use water, he said.
Basin is also eyeing renewable energy to power the water and sewer system, Norman said.
"We do have solar power down at the lagoon, which has been a big benefit. If we do add renewable energy, it will save money, and obviously it’s good for the environment," he said.
He said that these plans are currently in the discussion phase and contingent on grant funding. If the board does not receive the $1.7 million grant, he said, they will still have the $250,000 from the bucket B funds and up to $400,000 to use from the DNRC to fund projects.
Clancy eyes contaminant fix
The Monitor previously reported that Clancy’s wells contain elevated levels of nitrate and uranium, according to a 2018 Treasure State Endowment Program grant application. Nitrates can cause methemoglobinemia, or blue baby syndrome, which can be fatal to infants, according to the application, which also stated that uranium can cause kidney damage and "has been linked to cancer." Because of the contaminants, the Clancy Water and Sewer District Board said at their June 22 meeting that they hoped to rank high on the competitive grant’s public health and safety criteria.
The Clancy board planned to apply for more than $2 million in the competitive bucket C grant. However, Great West Engineering Project Manager Collette Anderson, who is handling the grant application for Clancy district, said that receiving $250,000 instead of the requested $500,000 would impact how much they apply for from bucket C. Anderson and members of the Clancy board were not immediately available for comment about exactly how much the district would request.
Fairground may seek city service
Kirsch said that the county also has its "hand in the pot" for funds to potentially connect the fairground to Boulder's municipal water and sewer system.
According to county Events Coordinator Bruce Binkowski, when the fairground gets busy, particularly during the summer, the septic system has to be pumped on a "pretty regular basis." Binkowski said that connecting to Boulder's water and sewer system would be an upgrade and would help modernize the facility. He said that there were not yet official plans and no decisions have been made.
The city of Boulder would have to approve extending its services to the fairground, which is outside of the city and doesn't adjoin the city boundary. The city currently serves part of the former Montana Developmental Center's South Campus, which is across state Highway 69 from the fairground.
Kirsch said that because the fairground is outside of Boulder, connecting it to the city’s water and sewer system could be complicated. In order to connect to Boulder's system, he said, the county would have to drill under the highway, which would be the most expensive part of the project.
"They’ve been talking about that for years, and this ARPA money may help to get that done," Binkowski said. Kirsch also said that he hoped the ARPA funds would help fund this project.
Kirsch said that, at the moment, the fairgrounds are not a priority. He said they are planning to allocate funds to the rest of the county and then see if there are any remaining for this project.
"The nice thing about the fairgrounds is everyone would benefit from it," he said.
Other requests trickle in
According to Kirsch, the day after the County Commission's July 13 meeting at which the county allocated the bucket B funds, the Forest Park water users association sent the county a list of potential projects that they need funding for. Kirsch said that the total amount requested was about $600,000. Montana City School also requested funds after the meeting, asking for $100,000 from the bucket B funds.
Kirsch said that the county will try to reach out to all the entities that qualify for the bucket B funds so that they can put in requests. He said that funding allocations will also depend on how much match money the entities can provide.