St. Maries residents spoke up resoundingly this year in favor of keeping Rochat Creek as their water supply.
On Nov. 4, their devotion to the creek will be tested. They will be asked whether to build a $5.5 million filtration system, which could more than double the average monthly water bill.
If they vote down the idea, the city likely will explore the cost of digging wells.
St. Maries is one of the largest Idaho towns to still rely on surface water, said Steve Tanner of the Idaho Division of Environmental Quality.
“The only treatment they’re giving it is chlorination, which is good for killing bacteria and viruses but isn’t effective against parasites,” Tanner said. “They’re in a situation that’s a risk, especially for the very old and the very young, who are more sensitive to organisms than others.”
Tanner’s agency enforces federal drinking water rules. St. Maries officials signed a consent order in August 1996, agreeing to improve their water system.
The city found an underground water supply, but hasn’t calculated the cost of building a system of wells.
“We just didn’t have enough time to offer that alternative to the voters,” council member George Currier said.
Rochat Creek has quenched the thirst of St. Maries residents since 1936, Mayor Ernest Pendell said.
“It’s great water,” he said. “As far as I know, we haven’t had anyone get sick.”
Approval of the bond levy could more than double the average water bill. An estimate of construction costs for the filtration system, which Currier considers to be optimistic, puts the resulting average monthly water bill at $36.50.
If the Nov. 4 measure passes, Tanner said, state regulators will sit down with city officials and figure out a time line for construction.
“If it fails, we’ll negotiate other options,” he said. “As long as they’re working with us, we don’t intend to penalize the city.”
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: LOYAL TO THEIR WATER Almost 1,000 people signed a petition saying they want to stay on Rochat Creek water, councilman George Currier said.