PAVILLION – Twenty households east of Pavillion could have cisterns, or water tanks, on their properties this fall, said an engineer whose company has been contracted by the state to oversee the project.

Riverton-based James Gores and Associates is finalizing the paperwork to bid out the cistern project, said Eric Carr, an engineer with the contractor. The best bid will be chosen, possibly in September.

“Sometime late fall we expect the first 20 would go into service,” said Jim Gores, the principal with the engineering firm.

In 2012, the Wyoming Legislature set aside $750,000 to supply clean household and drinking water to residents in a 23-square-mile area east of Pavillion. Inside the area is the Pavillion gas field, where hydraulic fracturing occurred. There is disagreement among the oil and gas industry, local residents and environmentalists about whether the industry practice, also known as fracking, caused some wells to show contaminants in testing. The state offered the cistern program to supply clean water to those with concerns about contamination,and allow those without problems to have access to guaranteed clean water -- a boon because the national attention to water concerns in the area has reportedly hurt property values.

As the investigation of the area's water continues, the water supply is being addressed, said Jerimiah Rieman, Gov. Matt Mead’s natural resource policy adviser. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently turned its investigation over to the state.

The governor’s office has estimated there are 35 households within the 23-square-mile area. All qualify for the free cisterns, Rieman said.

Tuesday night, some 25 residents met with state officials, the contractor and others to discuss the status of the new cisterns.

Each household participating in the project will get a pair of polyethylene tanks buried side-by-side, Gores said.

Each tank will have capacity for 1,750 gallons of water. That’s less expensive than buying one 3,500-gallon tank, Carr said.

Although the cisterns will be underground, attached to each will be a “manway,” which will poke up above the surface. The manway is a space large enough for a person to get inside and access equipment, such as pumps, Carr said.

The cisterns will be installed in phases. The first phase will be for the first 20 households that signed agreements with the state, which gives them each a cistern system and allows the state to test their well water, said Keith Clarey, a project manager with the Wyoming Water Development Office, which is working on the cistern project.

The second phase will be for anyone else who requests a cistern and signs the paperwork with the state. The specific number is unknown because additional households have said they want cistern systems but have not yet signed the paperwork, Clarey said. Also, the number of cisterns in the second phase will depend how much of the $750,000 is left after the first phase.

Resident Jennifer Murdock said that she has requested one, even though she already has a water treatment system and a reverse osmosis system.

“It’s more of a property-value protection,” she said, referring to a frequent comment among residents Tuesday that their values have dropped after some wells in the area showed contaminants in testing.

Also part of the first phase will be a central filling station in Pavillion. The filling station will get water from the Wind River Aquifer, upstream of wells where testing has indicated contaminants, and tests have shown the water that will be drawn for the filling station is safe, Gores said.

“The water right here in Pavillion, in this immediate area, meets EPA drinking water standards and does not have some of the taste and odor issues you are all too familiar with,” he said during the meeting, which was held at the Wind River Middle/High School.

While the $750,000 from the Legislature provides for the construction of the filling station and cisterns, it does not cover the cost of delivering water from the filling station to the cisterns, said Mark Pepper, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Rural Wate Systems.

Previous estimates of the cost for 4,000 gallons of water were $165.

Nationally, the average family of four uses 5,000 gallons a month, Pepper said.

Pavillion Mayor Gary Hamlin said the town is considering purchasing a water tanker for the water deliveries, even though the people in the 23-square-mile area do not live in the town’s boundaries.

But they use the town’s services and are friends and family members of town residents. “They are still part of our community,” he said.

Hamlin said the Town Council is considering buying a used tanker.

Pepper believes they can get one for $50,000 to $100,000.

Resident Louis Meeks is disappointed that the cistern water will be limited to household and drinking use. Households will not be able to use it for gardening, lawns and livestock, which he said is vital for the residents, many of whom farm and ranch.

“For something we didn’t do wrong, we had good water,” he said.

Resident Leon Toyne said that the contaminated well water has killed his cattle.

Toyne, who has requested a cistern system, is among many residents who drink jugs of water provided through a program administered by the Wyoming Association of Rural Water Systems. Money for the program comes from donations from Encana Oil and Gas, the operator of the Pavillion natural gas field, and others, Pepper said.

Toyne said his cattle drink from Five Mile Creek, which flows to Boysen Reservoir, and from drainage pools containing irrigation runoff from a waterway that Toyne has rights to. The waterway originates in the Wind River Mountains, he said.

That will continue since Toyne said he can’t give cistern water to the cattle, he said.

Reach state reporter Laura Hancock at 307-266-0581 or at Follow her on Twitter: @laurahancock.

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