Letter to the Editor

Testing the northern well site

Friday, December 26, 2003

Dear Constituents,

Please accept my humble apology. Last council meeting, the evening the referendum petition was presented, I listened to members of the audience question the Council's current approach to solving the city's "water problem."

I resolved that we, the council, need to do a better job of presenting the facts to the public. Sitting on the council it is easy to get caught up in the business of the city and neglect to keep the public informed when, after all, it is their business.

In an effort to better inform, the following is my present understanding of the water problem. This is my observation and my opinion. I am not speaking for the council.

The present plan of investigating a possible well site north of McCook has been approved by a majority of the council, city staff and most importantly the state of Nebraska. It has been the opinion of the majority of the council that the potential for obtaining good water at a northern site, in the Ogallala aquifer, is too great to ignore. We adopted an innovative approach to gain access to private property so we could drill test holes for possible wells. After the test wells are drilled we will test pump each to determine potential yield and quality of the water. A very comprehensive analysis will be conducted on the water produced. More than 100 elements are examined to determine suitability of the water for human consumption.

When the test results from the northern site are all in the citizens will be informed and the council can then determine if it is feasible to develop a new well field. If the water quality and/or quantity is not what we want, we will fall back to finding suitable wells near our present well field south of the Republican River and most probably start treating the water produced.

I am aware that obviously many members of the public are resigned to the opinion that building a treatment plant immediately is the best answer to our water problem. Possibly treatment is the answer, but unfortunately it is by far the most expensive of all our options.

I think there is a better way to go. If you think your water bills are high now, treatment will cause them to nearly triple.

Water treatment appears to be a little-understood process. Unfortunately what comes out of a water treatment plant is not "pure water." In a treatment plant, only a portion is cleaned then the stream of good water is blended with the stream of raw water to meet the required standard.

If, for example, the raw water contains 15-ppm (parts per million) nitrate then only the excess five parts of the nitrate are removed and the water containing 10 ppm is delivered to the customer. If arsenic in the raw water is 12 ppb (that is billion) then only the 2 parts are removed and 10-ppm arsenic water is delivered.

The same is true of radio nuclides, usually called uranium, naturally occurring may be 35 ppb (billion again) then only 5 ppb are removed to meet the standard of 30 ppb.

Any hardness, the calcium, magnesium etc. that leaves water spots on your glasses and sink, are all left in and the water delivered will be as hard as we are already used to drinking.

Extensive testing has shown that water pumped out of the ground in the Republican River basin seems to naturally run 12-15 ppm nitrate, 12-ppb arsenic and 35 ppb uranium. Generally the Ogallala aquifer water tests 2 to 6 ppm nitrate, 6-ppm arsenic and less than 15 ppb uranium. Additionally the water from the Ogallala is about one-half as hard as Republican water.

I think that it is prudent to test out the northern site in the Ogallala aquifer and determine if the water found there is suitable for our use. Once we test and sample it will then be possible to make an informed decision as which way to go.

In a future letter I will explore the possibility of building a new well site and the further probability of having to treat anyhow. I want to explore the cost of treating, relocating our big reservoir and locating a treatment plant if required.

In a final letter I will explain the envisioned replumbing in our distribution system and the efficiencies that could be gained from going north.

Dick Trail


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