Rocky Boy's water restrictions to stay in place until end of June 6-7-07

GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) - Water restrictions implemented after a solvent mistaken for chlorine was accidentally put into the water system at the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation are expected to remain in place until the end of the month, tribal officials said.

The Environmental Protection Agency must test and retest the water before clearing it for use. The process won't be finished until June 29, officials said Wednesday.

In the meantime, most reservation residents must avoid using their tap water. They're not allowed to drink it, cook with it, bathe in it, water their lawns with it, wash their clothes in it, or use it for any other purpose than to flush their toilets.

The restrictions have left many relying on relatives' private wells.

On Wednesday, tribal employees went door-to-door, issuing notices to reservation residents whose water comes from somewhere other than the main well, meaning it's safe to use. Eagleman, Parker School and Agency residents have safe water.

“The majority of the reservation is under the new town water system,” Tribal Water Resources Department Director Jim Morsette said. “We are chlorinating now and hopefully flushing the system for the final time. We're trying to get the system back in order.”

The EPA set up a mobile testing lab to provide data on whether the cleanup procedures are working.

On May 21, an unknown amount of T-151 degreaser was accidentally injected into the disinfection mixing tank. The solvent was spread throughout the water system the next afternoon.

The degreaser led to a fuel smell in the water, and alarmed consumers contacted Chippewa Cree tribal officials. The water restrictions were put in place throughout the reservation May 26.

Neal Rosette, the tribe's executive administrative officer, said last month that he had heard of one or two cases of diarrhea that might have been associated with the contamination, but had no other reports of harm to public health.

Consuming the water also could cause nausea, and bathing with it could irritate human skin, Rosette said.

School Superintendent Voyd St. Pierre said many people are showering at the public schools and the tribe's wellness center. Now that school is out and kids are eating and showering at home, the water restrictions may be more difficult for families, he said.

“Water is a basic daily need that people don't think about until it's lost or affected,” St. Pierre said.

Water also is being distributed at the Old Stone Child College parking lot, the Tribal Water Resources Department parking lot and the Chippewa Cree Construction Grounds in Box Elder Villages.