Crucial water issues make headlines

Thursday, August 26, 2004

If you have any doubts about the crucial importance of water in Southwest Nebraska, all you have to do is read the front pages of this week's area newspapers. Large headlines -- carrying news of water developments -- appear in the Arapahoe Public Mirror, the Benkelman Post & News-Chronicle, the Cambridge Clarion, the Hitchcock County News, the Indianola News and the Courier Times serving Hershey, Sutherland and Paxton.

The stories about water are wide-ranging. Most dramatic is the article in the Hitchcock County News by Jason Frederick. Under a headline which reads, "Stratton faces expensive water issues," Jason reports that Stratton has a choice: develop a well field north or town, or build a treatment plant.

From a cost standpoint, it would be very close to the same amount of money to develop a well field, estimated at $1,395,655, or to build a treatment plant, with an estimated cost of $1,408,000. But the difference, according to environmental engineer Chris Miller of McCook, would be annual operational costs. According to Miller & Associates' calculations, it will take $111,000 a year to operate and maintain the treatment plant, compared to $76,000 a year for maintenance and operation of the well field.

The Stratton situation is very similar to the water issues facing towns up and down the valley.

As reported in the Cambridge and Indianola newspapers, the cooperative water project for Bartley, Cambridge and Indianola has taken another major step forward. The good news comes in the form of a $950,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture award. The money comes via a loan and a grant to the Village of Bartley for water system improvements. In addition, the USDA has awarded grants of $5,250 each to Bartley and Indianola to do well field studies.

Previously, the USDA had awarded grants and loans to Indianola and Cambridge for water improvements. One of the major reasons the ag department has been so supportive is the cost-saving the three towns have accomplished by working together. When all capital costs are considered, the USDA estimates Bartley, Cambridge and Indianola will save $2.2 million.

Progress is also being made in Arapahoe, with the Public Mirror reporting that three test wells have been drilled. Denny Graham of Olsson Associates told the Arapahoe City Council that "one of the test wells has been pumped and, from all indications, the wells appear to be looking good."

Water is also in the news in Paxton, where a new, 100,000-gallon water tank is going up, and in southwestern counties, with the Benkelman Post reporting groundwater wells declined by one to five feet from 2002 to 2003.

No question about it, the water situation is serious throughout the region. While the price is steep, it's good to know that area communities are facing up to water questions, with the progress in Arapahoe and the combined effort in Bartley, Cambridge and Indianola providing a model for future community water projects.

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