Unbearable water 

Some Seeley Lake residents swear a bear is to blame for drinking water contamination that exceeds safe levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Two weeks ago, a diver inspecting the Seeley Lake Water District's intake in Seeley Lake discovered a drowned brown bear. Officials believe the bear became tangled in a line connecting the intake to a buoy floating about 50 feet above it.

The bear finding came around the same time Seeley Lake residents received in the mail the district's 2009 Annual Drinking Water Quality Report, which showed the haloacetic acid level to be 76 micrograms per litter (ug/L), in violation of the agency's 60 ug/L limit.

"We just barely failed the test for this year!" the letter reads.

Residents aren't so enthusiastic, and some believe the dead bear led the district to add more chlorine to the town's water. Chlorine, when mixed with organic matter, is what produces haloacetic acids.

"The water up here, literally, when you run it you smell chlorine. It smells like bleach," says Seeley Lake resident William Shoup, who holds firm to the bear theory. "Everybody in town is talking about it."

The water district says the high levels of haloacetic acids pose no risk at this time. "However," the letter reads, "some people who drink water containing haloacetic acids in excess of the MCL [maximum contaminant level] over many years may have an increased risk of getting cancer."

Vincent Chappell, general manager of the Seeley Lake Water District, says high haloacetic acid levels have to do with the district's long distribution system, which gives chlorine more time to react with organic matter. He also points to the town's many septic systems, and run-off from wildfires that makes it into the lake.

"There are just a lot of different impacts on the lake's surface water," Chappell says, "and we just happened to be one of the few in the state that has these issues."

And that bear?

"That," he says emphatically, "has absolutely nothing to do with it...That's the problem with small-town communities and whatnot. They hear something happened and, of course, it's rumor-ville. Nobody calls to check out what the actual truth is, and they make their own assumptions."

On June 15 the district began a seven-month project to upgrade the water system and bring it into compliance. The Cave:Advertising:02 Production Art:IndyLogoDingbat2002.tifB:'",,"")>

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