Some Nebraska Communities Still Without Clean Running Water

by Allison Mollenkamp, NET News

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March 29, 2019, 10:10 a.m.

While flood waters recede in eastern Nebraska, some communities aren’t back to normal when it comes to drinking water.

Just under two weeks ago the Missouri river levee breached near Peru, Nebraska, in Nemaha County. That meant the water treatment plant had to be shut down.

Renee Critser is the emergency management director for Nemaha County. She says with parts of town still under water, they can’t use the plant.

“Peru still has water being trucked in from Auburn. The water notice is still ongoing for, to boil if they’re gonna drink it. However, there is being bottled water provided to the citizens as well as to the Peru students and staff that’s available to drink,” Critser said.

Some homes don’t have water coming in at all.

“For the city of Peru, in the north end, there are still a couple of houses that we’re unable to get to because they’re still under water, and then north of there in the bottoms there are still two households as well as some farm sheds and grain bins that we’re unable to get to cause they’re still under water,” Critser said.

Nemaha County doesn’t yet have an estimate of how much the damage will cost, or a full timeline for getting back to normal.

“Once the water goes away and you can go in and start looking at things, it’s one to two weeks to get a good evaluation of how things are, because you have to test the wells and things like that and that takes time, so until the water actually goes away, that’s before anything can start moving forward,” Critser said.

Meanwhile, in Boyd County, Nebraska, they are also dealing with water issues, but they know the timeline and the high costs.

Gail Spencer is bookkeeper for the Boyd County Rural Water District #2. She described what started the city’s water problems just over two weeks ago.

“We have four wells on the south side of the Niobrara River in Holt County, and we had a 12 inch, 16 inch line going underneath the river. When the Spencer Dam went out, and all that ice and water came down through there, it took, it broke our line. So that put most of Boyd County without water,” Spencer said.

Now the water district has to bore a new line. It won’t be cheap.

“We accepted a bid last Friday for a $1,073,354. They are planning to have it replaced in 42 days,” Spencer said.

The water district won’t be responsible for that whole figure. Spencer expects FEMA will pay 75 percent. That leaves 25 percent to be paid locally or by the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, also called NEMA.

“NEMA could do 12.5 percent, but we were told that we better not plan on it,” Spencer said.

That uncertainty means the rural water district is preparing to have to cover significant costs for rebuilding the line under the river.

Melanie Black started a GoFundMe page to help raise money for the project. Black is well acquainted with the situation. Her husband Rex Black is the board president of the water district.

“Well, we just wanted to do something for the rural water district. They have a lot of expense coming up with the water line project and wanted to see if we could try to get some funds started for that,” Black said.

The fundraiser’s goal is $400,000. As of Thursday afternoon, it had raised a bit over $10,000.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Like I said we’ve had some very generous donors," Black said.

Even with those donations, it will still be a while before the new water line is completed. In the meantime, Spencer says Boyd County residents do have water, though it’s not drinkable.

“We were able to refurbish two farmer’s wells that are putting out a lot of good, good water. There was a lot of expense with getting those wells ready to go. Plus we trucked tankers of water from Pickstown, South Dakota, and Bristow, Nebraska,” Spencer said.

The residents of Boyd County are drinking bottled water for now. However, they aren’t the only ones who usually depend on the rural water district. Farmers in Boyd County also need water for their cattle and other animals.

“Our livestock producers did what they had to do. They shipped some of their cattle away to other feed lots and they hooked onto their own wells, but normally over 40,000 head of cattle would be drinking rural water,” Spencer said.

For those not on a city or county water system, the state Department of Environmental Quality has been providing well water tests.