Three Forks receives grant to update wastewater system


THREE FORKS, Mont. - The City of Three Forks now has the final piece of funding to give the town's sewage system a $4 million overhaul. A grant from the Montana Department of Commerce's Treasure State Endowment Program will allot $750,000 to the project. The Three Forks wastewater system hasn't been updated since the early '80s, and doesn't meet current Department of Environmental Quality requirements. The grant money will help offset that total $4 million cost for the city's rate payers. "Making sure that the state can assist these local entities in providing clean water to their citizens is a critical piece of maintaining the quality of life in Montana that we expect," said Communications Director for Governor Bullock Dave Parker. Three Forks Mayor Steven Hamilton and Street Superintendent Wendall Ewan showed NBC Montana the wastewater plant. The system is filtered naturally. The wastewater comes into wastewater lagoons and is treated by naturally occurring organisms. It takes about 20 days for the process to complete, and then the water goes into the Madison River. The plant is severely outdated, and no longer meets state standards. "The standards have changed and what we're doing needs to change as well," Hamilton explained. That's why the city has plans for an upgrade to install a state-of-the-art system. "The proposed system and the one that is in-design, is an aeration unit, it goes into an aeration cell, a settling pond, and final treatment of UV for disinfection," Ewan explained. This system is more efficient than what the city uses now, and leaves less waste behind. "The finished water coming out is crystal clear and odorless," Ewan said. That's important because the treated water goes back into the Madison River. "We want to make sure that water is as clean as we possibly can get it, because the water that we discharge, it goes into the environment and it goes out into the surroundings," Hamilton said. The city is currently in the design phase of the project, and hope to break ground early next spring. The city says residents have seen multiple rate increases to prepare for this project, and will see one more increase before the new plant is complete. Aging water and sewer systems are something many small Montana towns are dealing with. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Montana water and sewer systems could need as much as $1.5 billion in repairs. In 2009, the town of Philipsburg used millions of dollars in grants and loans to clean and repair two 40-year-old sewage lagoons, and a 2012 report indicated Anaconda's sewer system needs some $11 million in repairs.