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Red Cross sends bottled water to Spirit Lake

FARGO -- The American Red Cross here announced Wednesday that it sent 4,300 bottles of water to the Spirit Lake Nation, where 300 homes were "without potable water."

But tribal officials said the water is fine to drink -- people just don't like it.

Water on the reservation just south of Devils Lake has been largely the same for the last 20 years, but they switched to a new water treatment system in June to ensure it meets Environmental Protection Agency standards for arsenic levels, said Robert Thompson, director of Spirit Lake Water Resource Management.

It's cleaner than it was before, and officials test the water coming out of the new filters every day, Thompson said. Still, he said there's a slight sheen on the new water as manganese is cleaned out of the pipes. He said the sheen will last at least six months.

For days, tribal officials fielded complaints about the water from people all over the reservation.

Michael "Marty" Alex, the tribe's emergency management director, said they sought donations of bottled water to "appease" those who do not like the taste, smell and look of the new water. Though Thompson and Alex said the water is safe to drink, they wanted to bring "peace of mind" to residents who didn't want to drink it.

The regional division of the American Red Cross agreed, promising to donate 180 cases of bottled water.

After the news release was sent Wednesday, Red Cross officials said in an interview that they were under the impression the water was not drinkable due to a water system change, but that they would not pull their donation.

Alex said they would make the bottled water available at the emergency management office in Fort Totten.

They also plan to educate residents on the safety of their new water through a public service announcement on a local radio station, Thompson said.