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Sheridan well woes caused by Lincoln earthquake
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Sheridan well woes caused by Lincoln earthquake

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Sheridan water

Sheridan resident and community volunteer Joe Brummell helped Sheridan residents load up on bottled water provided by the state two years ago because a well exceeded drinking water standards for lead. The town has been in compliance since, but last year's earthquake in Lincoln brought more well woes for the tiny town 160 miles away.

Rates go up Tuesday for the 700 residents of Sheridan to pay for a $400,000 loan necessary because of last year’s earthquake near Lincoln, about 160 miles away.

The 5.8 earthquake that rocked western Montana in July 2017 damaged Sheridan’s second-to-last drinking water well, even though the tiny town is approximately 160 miles from the epicenter, said Sheridan Mayor Bob Stump.

Mike Stickney, director of the Earthquake Studies Office at the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, said he was not aware of Sheridan’s well problem, but he’s not surprised.

Stickney said the earthquake near Lake Hebgen in 1959 affected wells as far away as Florida and Hawaii.

“We don’t know the precise mechanism, but it’s been observed,” Stickney said.

To help with Sheridan’s water problems, the Department of Agriculture is also giving the town $996,000 for a rural development grant.

That, along with the loan — also coming from the USDA — and money from the town, means Sheridan will have the $1.45 million it needs to dig a new well and lay a new pipeline.

Stump said Sheridan has been through a rough couple of water years.

Two years ago, the town had an exceedance for lead in the town’s drinking water. Sheridan notified the state Department of Environmental Quality, which began providing bottled water to any resident who wanted it and began testing Sheridan’s water every six months instead of every three years, which is the usual requirement.

Although no one knows for sure why Sheridan’s water began to show the higher lead levels, Stump said the majority opinion was that the lead might’ve come from an underground pump that was “eating itself” because it was getting old.

That pump was in a shallow well. The town quit using that well.

Kristi Ponozzo, DEQ spokesperson, said Sheridan has been in compliance for all recent lead testing.

But that wasn’t all of Sheridan’s well woes.

The town noticed air sucking into the pump of the second shallow well in the spring of 2017. The town tried to fix the problem, but it didn’t go away.

So that well was taken offline.

Then the earthquake happened. That led to air showing up in a deep water well. Sheridan tried to address the problem by cleaning out the pump, but the issue continued.

So that well was taken offline.

That left Sheridan with only one well to drink and irrigate from.

With only one well to pump water, the need overtaxed the well. Originally the well was able to pump 325 gallons of water a minute. But when it became the only well, it dropped to 140 gallons a minute.

Sheridan put in water-use restrictions at the beginning of the summer season, but by July 15, the town had to tell residents they could no longer water their lawns at all.

“At that point, the one operating well had run five straight days 24/7. The level in the (water) tank was such that if there’d been a fire, we’d have been in trouble,” Stump said.

Stump said that in addition to that, the town had two water main breaks this past year.

"The last couple of years have been trying because of water issues," he said.

The base rate is going from $30 a month to $45 a month. There are also additional fees being implemented based on resident usage.

Stump said he hopes the new rates will drive conservation. He also said the place where the new well is going in is on private property, but the landowner is allowing the town to drill the well for free.

The new well could go in as early as next month. Stump said the new pipeline will take longer and probably won’t be completed until next spring.

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Environmental and natural resources reporter for the Montana Standard.

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