Town certified to test its water

Holly Dabb photo Lab technician Spencer Harshman demonstrates how a black light is it used on water test samples that have been incubated at a controlled temperature. If e. coli is present, the sample glows under the light.

Services needed closer to home after lab closes

Traveling 30 hours back

and forth to Billings, Mont., twice a week is

over for Pinedale municipal staff members.

The town’s new laboratory is now officially

certified by the Environmental Protection

Agency and four staff members are trained

to complete mandated water samples inhouse.

The town of Pinedale is required to test

water in Fremont Lake twice a week – no

exceptions. The lake is one of the few open

water systems for municipal water supplies

remaining in the nation.

Because water from the lake is not filtered

before being treated with chlorine and

ultraviolet light, the EPA requires testing for

fecal coliform, total coliform and e. coli.

In the past, testing was completed by Zedi

Laboratories, which maintained a lab in Pinedale.

Four months ago, that laboratory

closed. Testing for total coliform and e. coli

can be done by many labs, including labs in

the nearby Rock Springs or Riverton. However,

very few municipalities actually need

to test for fecal coliform and the closest laboratory

certified to test is in Billings, Mont.

For the past four months – most of the winter

– the town’s staff members had to drive

water samples to the Billings lab. In order

to meet the eight-hour deadline from taking

the sample to time of testing, a staff member

spent 30 hours a week making the drives.

With no relief or lab in sight, the town

hired former EPA inspector Rita Wright to

consult and help the staff set up a lab.

For the past weeks, dual samples were

taken to ensure staff members were properly

trained. About $16,000 in equipment, including

a dry incubator, a wet incubator and

fluorescent lights, were purchased to complete

the lab.

Spencer Harshman, wearing his white

coat and new title of lab technician, demonstrated

a typical test process, saying more

time actually goes into ensuring the tests are

accurate than completing the actual test.

Meanwhile, the town has also written a

Services needed closer

to home after lab closes

By Holly Dabb

[email protected]

letter to the EPA ensuring a Fremont Lake

Watershed Study will be completed.

Because water in the lake has always

met EPA standards, there has never been a

requirement to filter the water before it is


However, that all changed in August 2018

when test samples exceeded the EPA standards

for fecal coliform.

The plan establishes a work group and

slates May through July for preliminary research,

including gathering data from past


Fieldwork is planned for August, September

and October – the months in 2018 when

there were high readings for contamination.

A final study will be submitted to the EPA

by February 2020.

Implementation of any recommendations

coming from the study would begin in

March 2020.

The EPA will review the submitted plan

and respond back to the town whether the

plan and study meet its approval.

If the source of contamination is not identified

and stopped, the town could be required

to add a $16-million filtration system

to the town’s treatment process.

The town has retained the consultant team

of Jorgensen and Associates – JVA – and

Strike Consulting Group to assist in the

study and developing a plan.

Conducting a watershed study to identify

sources of fecal coliform at the intakes was

one of three options the EPA gave to the

town to deal with the samples that exceeded

EPA guidelines.

Meanwhile, Sublette County Commissioners

were informed at their April 16

meeting that the Lee Ditch that drains into

Fremont Lake will be part of the study to determine

potential contamination. The county

has a subdivision above the ditch.

Harshman maintains drinking water is

also tested out of taps throughout Pinedale

for potential contamination. He said the existing

treatment from the chlorine and ultraviolet

guarantees the water is safe to drink.


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