County joins Carlile water battle

By Sarah Pridgeon

Grace Moore photo
Pump stations have been operational in the area since the 1970s.

Crook County itself is now involved in the battle to provide water to landowners in the Carlile area. Though the issue has not formally been attributed to work on the Madison water system, landowners whose wells suddenly ran dry or acidic last year asked for ‘good neighbor’ assistance from the City of Gillette, whose Madison pipeline runs in close proximity to their properties.

Despite attempts from Senator Ogden Driskill to convince Gillette to provide water to homes inside the affected area, Gillette has so far not agreed to do so.

The Crook County Commissioners last week heard a proposal from Harry Labonde, Director of Wyoming Water Development, that would see the county sponsor a grant to extend an existing part of the Madison pipeline such that it can serve certain Crook County residents.

An existing pump station on Hwy 14 has an eight-inch waterline running from it, said Labonde, to which taps have already been installed because Gillette had been anticipating providing water to landowners in the area. The line does not reach the affected area, however.

Labonde’s proposal is for a grant of around $1.1 million, based on a preliminary estimate, with a 33 percent match from the sponsor – the best Wyoming Water Development can offer, he said, under the constraints of the program. This would be used to extend the existing line around 4800 feet, past the Oshoto Community Bible Church, and provide around 13 taps for new customers in the area.

“Gillette is rightfully focused on providing water to their constituents in the city,” said Labonde. Consequently, he said, though a water quality issue does exist in Crook County, the city has not been interested in extending their system.

“Gillette is not going to be interested in paying anything for that,” Labonde continued, explaining that Crook County is beyond the intended scope of their service area.

However, he said, they may be open to the idea of servicing and maintaining the line if they are not faced with the responsibility of paying for its installation.

“Timing is good right now as the Wyoming Water Development Commission is going to be starting to develop its next round of projects to be presented to the legislature,” he said.

Questions still remain, Labonde told the commissioners, such as whether Gillette would agree to the project going ahead and whether they will be amenable to servicing the new line.

“Crook County is really the first entity I have asked this question of,” he said, explaining that the grant needs a sponsor, so his first step is to find out if it will have one.

Practically speaking, said Labonde, the idea makes good sense, but he believes Gillette would feel more comfortable servicing and maintaining the new line if a water district is formed to oversee it. At the time the district formed, it would become a wholesale customer.

It takes up to a year to form a district assuming all landowners are agreement, Labonde said, “Otherwise, it could very well not form as the landowners do have a say”. He acknowledged that a district is a more complicated way of doing things than individual taps landowners could simply buy.

The Department of Environmental Quality has been investigating the cause of the dry and acidic wells, but no conclusion has been made. Labonde explained that it is “going to be difficult if not impossible” to determine what caused the aquifer to acidify.

Driskill, however, shared his belief that the issue may no longer be confined to the Carlile area that was first identified. He suggested a better approach to the problem may be to apply for a Level 1 Water Study through Wyoming Water Development that encompasses a larger area to include Moorcroft and Rozet.

He commented that Gillette is currently not allowed to flush its new wells for the Madison system and cannot bring them online, which they have said makes it difficult to provide water to new users. Commissioner Jeanne Whalen added that she heard stated at the recent Select Water Committee meeting that Gillette has not added any new subdivisions to its system for the last few years, asking if this might also mean the city would deny the 13 taps running off the proposed new line.

“Really what you are doing is building a dry pipeline until they figure out if they are going to get those wells online,” said Driskill.

Labonde responded that Gillette’s preference would probably be to say no.

“Until they do get a couple of those new wells online, they are going to be resistant to any new taps,” he admitted.

However, he reiterated his belief that they may be more willing if they see it will not cost them anything to set up the line for the new customers.

Driskill asked Labonde if Wyoming Water Development would look favorably on a Level 1 Water Study; Labonde answered that they would. The deadline to submit a proposal for the study is March 1, he said, causing County Attorney Joe Baron to note that this could mean waiting until 2020 to start the actual study – a long time, under the circumstances.

“We will expedite it,” said Driskill, referring to the Select Water Committee, which he said has been involved in discussions and would like to see the issue resolved.

If expedited, the study could begin immediately following the next legislative session, Driskill said. He suggested including in the proposal a rate study for the cost of delivering water to Crook County customers and verification of Moorcroft’s water rates.

Baron was directed to begin preparing an application for a Level 1 Water Study.