Working together pays off in safe water

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

By working together to provide their residents with a substantial supply of safe drinking water, the communities of Arapahoe, Bartley, Cambridge, Holbrook and Indianola have set an example which should inspire a new era of cooperative projects in Southwest Nebraska.

It is an uplifting story because, as recently as two years ago, village boards throughout the Republican River Valley were deeply troubled. Their worries were prompted by strict new federal and state rules for water quality. The regulations hit this area harder than almost any other area in the United States because two of the closely watched contaminants -- arsenic and uranium -- are naturally occurring in the bottom land bordering the river.

It was a scary situation. Towns as small as Bartley, which had a population of 355 in the last census, were facing costs reaching into the millions of dollars for new wells, water lines and/or water treatment.

Concern grew to the point that area mayors sponsored a nationally noticed conference, called "Arsenic & The Old West." The event, which took place Aug. 20, 2003 at the former McCook Elks Club, attracted town leaders from throughout Southwest Nebraska and Northwest Kansas, as well as state and national legislators and water authorities.

The event allowed area leaders to vent their frustration, but -- more important -- it showed town boards up and down the valley that they were in the same boat. All had water problems, and they only had a limited amount of time to comply.

For the communities east of McCook, it was close to this time in history that a major turning point was taking place. It happened in the offices of Miller & Associates in McCook, when two consulting engineers were chatting. Chris Miller, who was working with Cambridge on water problems, and Thaniel Monaco, who was assisting Bartley, realized that the sites they were looking at for water wells were across the road from each other to the north of the towns. "Why not work together?," the engineers reasoned. So they got in touch with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who both loved the idea. "But," the agencies asked: "Why not go farther? Why not also include the communities of Holbrook, Arapahoe and Indianola in the cooperative project?"

And so was born a project that will provide residents of the five communities with top quality water for many years to come. During the course of the study, it was determined that it would be more economical and efficient to separate the projects, with Bartley, Cambridge and Indianola served by one well field, and Arapahoe and Holbrook by another. But the important thing is -- by working together -- the communities have ushered in a new era of cooperation which could be the inspiration for towns throughout the valley, not only for water wells, but for other projects of mutual benefit.

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