Butte, known for the contaminated water in the Berkeley Pit, is leading the nation in implementing a new water-treatment technology.
A water treatment system common in Japan and parts of Europe is coming to Butte-Silver Bow. When complete in December 2016, Butte will be the first municipality in the nation to treat its drinking water with this system.
Most water treatment plants operate with polymeric - meaning plastic - membranes, which wear out every 10 years, Public Works director Dave Schultz said.
The county is building a $15 million water treatment plant to treat drinking water from Basin Creek Reservoir. According to Schultz, the plant will contain ceramic membranes, costing an additional $5.6 million. The membranes last a lifetime, saving the county money in the long run.
The membrane acts like a colander. When you pour a pot of spaghetti into a colander, water runs through the holes, while the pasta stays within the colander. The ceramic membranes act in the same way, containing the contaminants.
About 40 percent of Butte's annual water supply comes from Basin Creek. The recipients are residents and businesses located in the Flats.
Moulton Reservoir and the Big Hole River supply drinking water to residents in Uptown Butte and Walkerville.
Another money-saving aspect is that the water wasted in the system will be half of one percent. Most treatment plants waste 10 percent of the water they receive, Schultz said.
Schultz said the county opted for the Japanese version of water treatment because the county was looking to save money.
Basin Creek reservoir currently costs the county about $8 per a million gallons of water. Although not currently treated, the water from Basin Creek is chlorinated by the county.
Water coming from the Big Hole River costs $238 per million gallons due to electrical costs to pump the water and the chemicals needed to treat it.
"Butte is unique because it had to find three different water sources to have enough," Schultz said. "Most towns have one water source."
Schultz said the reason Butte needed three was because of mine waste contamination.
The county will not need to pump water from Basin Creek reservoir, nor will the county need to build a new water tank to store the treated water.
Gravity will bring the water through the treatment process and then directly into town.