Following this week’s flooding at the City of Billings Water Plant, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell and U.S. Senator Jon Tester took a tour of the facility on Friday morning to see the flood’s impact firsthand.
The plant became flooded late Tuesday night, forcing the City of Billings to ask residents to conserve water on Wednesday.
“The timing of FEMA coming to visit Billings was very fortuitous. We weathered this flood event remarkably well. However, we have struggled at the plant for close to a decade. We have an ever-changing river that makes operations very difficult, increasing demands and we have been asking FEMA for funds to build our West End project for several years through grant applications. Having Criswell come to our city and see our plant and see the river in all its unrestrained beauty, shows how advantageous it will be for us to have the West End facility,” said Debi Meling, Director of Public Works.
The City of Billings Public Works Department has requested FEMA’s assistance over the past several years.
In 2021 and 2022, the City applied for FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) grant, which would give the City $50 million to put toward the $140 million project.
The project will feature two reservoirs on the West End of Billings along with a water treatment plant.
The new system will give the City the ability to isolate from the Yellowstone River and withstand natural and man-made disasters like drought, flooding, chemical spills, oil pipeline breaks, and ice jams.
The site will be able to provide 40 days’ worth of drinking water for the city should a disaster occur. That’s a tremendous increase from the supply that was said to be available during this week’s situation of up to a day-and-a-half.
“Regardless of whether we get the grant or not, the city needs to construct a facility starting later this year,” Meling said.
A groundbreaking is planned for late fall/early winter of 2022 with construction starting the following spring.
If the City of Billings receives the grant, it will help reduce the rates that customers within the city will have to pay for the facility. However, the current rate structure is set up so the facility can be funded even if the City doesn’t receive the grant.
While the focus has been on the water plant this week, Meling expressed gratitude for all Public Works employees.
“Staff from the Street-Traffic Division have been dealing with storm drains that have been completely backed up and full. Workers at the Wastewater Plant have been keeping that facility running, and staff at the water plant have all been doing amazing work in less-than-ideal circumstances. The City is incredibly lucky to have the talent and diligence that we have at all of our facilities,” said Meling.
Also in attendance at Friday’s tour was Billings Clinic Chief Executive Officer Dr. Scott Ellner and Chief Communication Officer Jim Duncan. Billings Clinic along with St. Vincent Healthcare, RiverStone Health and Yellowstone County Disaster Emergency Services sent out a joint message of support this week as the Unified Health Command, asking residents to conserve water.
More information on the challenges at the current water plant and the benefits of the new West End Water System can be found here: https://ci.billings.mt.us/DocumentCenter/View/47346/61722-PW-WP-Packet