The flag of the Crow Tribe flies in Crow Agency, Montana. Photo: Montanabw
Environment | National

Crow Tribe declares emergency after vandalism at water treatment facility

The Crow Tribe is dealing with another crisis on its reservation in Montana.

Vandals struck the water treatment facility in Crow Agency earlier this week. Chairman Alvin "A.J." Not Afraid, Jr., declared a state of emergency as an estimated 1,600 residents were told not to use the water while the system undergoes tests.

The tribe delivered bottled water to the community on Thursday, The Billings Gazette reported. “We probably worked until about 9 last night and delivered a case to every home in Crow Agency,” Laura Little Owl, the director of the tribe's Fish and Game Department, told the paper

Schools in Crow Agency also have been shut down. "Due to water quality uncertainties school is cancelled for the rest of the week," the superintendent said in a post on Facebook.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs also maintains a water treatment plant at the same location as the tribal one. The facility may be able to address the needs of the community on a temporary basis, a coordinator from the Environmental Protection Agency told the paper.

“The tribal plant is definitely going to be down for a little while,” Martin McComb told the paper. The EPA is on the reservation to test the water.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs issued a drinking water warning to residents of Crow Agency, Montana, after the Crow Tribe's water treatment facility was vandalized and put out of service. Image: Crow Tribe

The tribe's disaster and emergency services coordinator, though, indicated otherwise. “The BIA plant still works, but we can’t use the water because two plants funnel into one through the water system,” Laura RidesHorse told MTN News.

One person has been detained in connection with the vandalism, MTN News reported. The facility was apparently destroyed with guns and by setting fires, causing an estimated $1 million in damages.

The shutdown at the water plant came after the tribe shut down its governmental operations on October 1 due to a lack of a budget. Essential services, like law enforcement, utilities and businesses, remain in operation.

The remaining programs are expected to return after the budget is finalized. The Crow Legislature, an independent branch of the tribe's government, is convening a special session next Wednesday, October 11, to take action.

In 2010, Congress ratified the tribe's water rights settlement. The facility in Crow Agency was constructed as part of the agreement, which authorizes projects to improve the water systems on the reservation and in nearby areas.

Environmental Health News published an in-depth look at the water issues on the reservation as part of its Sacred Water series. Contamination of well water, from mining and other pollutants, has long been a problem for residents.

Read More on the Story:
Tribe delivers bottled water to Crow Agency after treatment facility was vandalized (The Billings Gazette October 6, 2017)
Crow Tribe Water Authority says vandals used guns, fire to destroy water treatment plant (MTN News October 6, 2017)
Suspect detained in vandalism at Crow water plant; drinking advisory in effect (MTN News October 5, 2017)
Vandals Destroy Crow Agency Water Treatment Plant (Montana Public Radio October 5, 2017)
Water restriction for the town of Crow Agency (MTN News October 5, 2017)

Related Stories:
Crow Tribe planning to shut down non-essential operations as funding dries up (October 3, 2017)