KALISPELL, Mont. - The Montana Department of Environmental Quality confirms one in five Montana water systems wouldn't pass a code inspection.
The cost to fix the aging systems isn't cheap. DEQ estimates it will take $885 million for upgrades and improvements.
State Sen. Mike Phillips thinks he has an answer. He's prepared to introduce legislation that offers cities the option of a sales tax. Money raised would pay for infrastructure deficiencies.
"That's all Senate Bill 331 aims to do," says Phillips, "provide new revenue streams for infrastructure projects."
Flathead County communities understand the need. They've been in the mud, repairing four water main breaks since January.
Water mains have an expected service life of about 75 years, but Montana communities we surveyed tell us they have pipe in the ground that is far older than that.
The city of Bozeman tells us they have some water mains that were built in the 1800s.
Kalispell has some dating back to the 1920s. In just three years, they've patched one east side main nine times. Now the city is planning a $4 million improvement project to update the line.
Missoula doesn't own its water system yet, but they do know 50 percent of the water that goes in doesn't arrive at the tap. The company that owns the system didn't respond to our questions.
As we read through Phillips’ bill, we learned that the local option sales tax would give local governments revenue to fund critical projects like water systems, sewage treatment and roads.
The problem is sales taxes are unpopular in Montana. For decades lawmakers have proposed them and voters have shut them down.
"Absolutely not," says Kalispell resident Mick Diede. "I don't believe in sales taxes whatsoever."
Murphy McMahon is opposed too. "I would be (against the idea of a sales tax). Float a bond for it."
Those who support the tax argue the $885 million problem isn't going away. They say if not a sales tax how will struggling communities pay for the work?
Phillips told us he expects the bill to be heard next week.