At Cooke City Water District, our goal is to provide safe, clean, water to all of our residents!
PO Box 1833
Livingston, MT 59047
Deb Purvis, Jessica Baumgartner, Brian Boyle, Ken Hufford, Ben Zavora
The District: Cooke City’s original water system was constructed in the 1950s by a Water Users Association which was organized as early as 1947. In 1967, the Cooke City, Park County Water District was duly established but remained inactive while the Users Association continued to operate and maintain the system. Then in 1985, the Association resolved to upgrade with new spring development near Soda Butte Creek. In order to issue and sell the nearly $160,000 worth of bonds necessary to finance the project, it was required that the official Water District be brought into full service as the operators and administrators of the system. Since the Water Users Association held all titles, permits, and property rights pertaining to the system, it was necessary that they legally sign everything over to the District. This was accomplished in June of 1985 and the Cooke City Water Users Association was retired.
The Cooke City, Park County Water District is managed by an elected Board of Directors as required by Montana law for water and sewer districts. The Board consists of 5 members serving 4-year terms and has complete authority to raise revenue, pay expenses, conduct maintenance, and generally manage the provision of water to its users. The District Board currently hires an administrative staff consisting of a part-time clerk and a part-time operator. The clerk is responsible for all accounting aspects and the operator takes care of the maintenance of the system. As a general rule, the District Board holds regular, open public meetings on the 3rd Thursday of each month, but may also conduct closed, executive meetings as deemed necessary in order to address items that require higher levels of confidentiality.
The Water: Cooke City’s original water system was constructed in the 1950s and relied on gravity-flow water from a series of springs north of town which were called the Hoosier springs. The system was constructed at a cost of $40,000. However, water production declined dramatically in the winter and, consequently, the springs were often unable to supply enough water to meet the town’s demand. In early 1985, the managing association resolved to upgrade with a new ‘spring development and supply line’ project at a cost of nearly $160,000. In order to pay for the improvements, a bond levy was requested which would allow the Montana DNRC to purchase bonds in the number of funds needed. Early in 1986, Park County established a Special Improvement District (SID) to provide for taxation of the water users of Cooke City for the purpose of funding the upgrades to their water system. The upgrades consisted of the development of a second spring near Soda Butte Creek located 1.25 miles east of town and the work was completed in 1987. The bonds that were sold to DNRC were retired by Cooke City taxpayers in December of 2006, as agreed.
Shortly after the upgrades to the system were completed, the Yellowstone Park wildfires of 1988 damaged the collection system at the older Hoosier springs and water production there was significantly reduced. The most likely cause was the removal of trees and degradation of ground cover by the fires which increased runoff, thereby, reducing infiltration. Due to significantly decreased water flows, it was not feasible to repair the damage at the old springs, so the collection system there was shut down. Unfortunately, the Soda Butte spring experienced the same seasonal flow issues as the old Hoosier springs and it was not designed to supply all of Cooke City’s water needs. It never provided enough water in the winter months to meet the demand of the community and, to make matters worse, the transmission lines were not buried deep enough to prevent freezing in the winter. Consequently, Cooke City suffered serious water shortages which exposed its residents to potential public health risks, and the District was forced to create bleeder lines to keep the water from freezing. During the winter of 2002, an emergency surface water diversion was created to supplement the flow from Soda Butte spring because it had become apparent that the water shortage had reached a critical point. A boil order was issued by DEQ and Cooke City was ordered to take corrective action. Additionally, DEQ conducted a hydrogeological assessment at Soda Butte spring and identified several concerns with the collection system that could allow for surface water contamination. It was also determined that the total capacity of only 40,000 gallons was insufficient and that the original tank constructed in the 1950s had deteriorated to the extent that it should be abandoned. Eventually, it was also determined that the town’s single water supply also violated State design standards, and, on top of everything else, the National Park Service also put Cooke City on notice to stop wasting water by using the bleeder lines because of the potential impact on hydrothermal features.
In April of 2002, a public hearing was conducted to present proposed improvements and projected costs and discuss the possibility of making grant applications to 2 state programs ( TSEP & DNRC) and a federal program (Rural Development / USDA) that help fund municipal infrastructure projects. The hearing was well attended and the project was overwhelmingly supported. It would take several years for everything to be put in place to see the project through. Several options were considered, but in the end, it was determined that expansion and rehabilitation of the Soda Butte spring area along with upgrading transmission lines was the best and most cost-effective way to go. This required purchases of easements, a new, significantly larger tank, drilling of 3 wells, construction of a structure to house pump controls, new larger pipelines, etc. As part of the plan, the District also elected to install meters on all commercial and residential service connections and adopted a wellhead protection plan to protect the integrity of the water supply. This established long-term solutions to infrastructure problems and made it clear that Cooke City residents are dedicated to the improvement of their public facilities. Although completion was originally anticipated for the fall of 2005, after several unexpected delays, the new system was officially completed in the spring/summer of 2010. The price tag was in excess of $3 million of which the District carried indebtedness of slightly more than $1.5 million, but the wells at Soda Butte spring now provide water at the approximate rate of 107 gallons per minute and the larger tank holds 223,000 gallons of water which should meet the needs Cooke City residents and businesses well into the future.
The Town: The Cooke City area was first visited by non-natives in 1864 in the form of two men (George Houston & Peter Moore) along with more than 30 prospectors. Five years later (1869), a more thorough investigation was undertaken by four other men the names of Miller, Moore, Gurley, and Henderson. Miller found gold in the upper Soda Butte Creek area but was forced to leave (along with Miller and Henderson) by hostile Crow Indians. By 1875, the large number of staked claims in the area produced a growing settlement initially named “Shoefly” after the mine that was founded there, and in 1877, a smelter began operations there. Later in 1877, the town was renamed “Cooke City” in honor of Jay Cooke, a Philadelphia financier, who visited the area to inspect mining activities. He had promised to bring the railroad into the area, but his intent was never realized. In 1882, the Crow reservation was reduced in size which, effectively, freed Cooke City from the bounds of Indian lands. Miners soon flooded the newly-established New World Mining District, but the scale of exploitation was limited by the long, harsh winters, lack of transportation, and rugged terrain. A wagon road was finally brought in by Jay Allen who followed portions of the old Bannock Trail. After that, steady development was realized with the Republic Smelter leading the local economy.
The town was finally platted in 1883 and by 1885, Cooke City consisted of more than 125 log cabins, 2 smelters, 2 steam sawmills, 2 hotels, 3 general stores, and other such businesses. Mineral production dropped from 1894 to 1905 when silver prices fell, but by 1921, six mining companies were again operating in the area. However, the cost of transporting materials proved too detrimental for most of them, but one of them, the McLaren Company, managed to stay in operation until 1953.
The saving grace for Cooke City came with the completion of the “Beartooth Highway” in 1936. This highway (US 212) created a seasonal, scenic route into Yellowstone National Park from the northeast and right through Cooke City. It is the increased tourist traffic that helps to keep the town alive today. As Cooke City’s tourism economy grows, the state of Montana benefits as a whole, too. This little town is the sole Montana community on the east side of Yellowstone Park and sits directly in the path of tourist traffic entering Yellowstone National Park from its most scenic route.