Water treatment plant reaches 5-billion-gallon milestone

Friday, November 8, 2013

It started with the nitrates.

Over-fertilization of corn crops in the Republican River polluted our groundwater to the point that water from some private wells was unsafe to bathe in. The City of McCook was out of compliance for water quality, and forced to provide bottled water for pregnant or nursing mothers and others with health concerns.

The city juggled new and existing wells in the river valley, pulling water from the most polluted ones only in time of peak demand.

Test wells were drilled in a promising spot southeast of the city, only to find that a large plume of solvent, dumped on the ground from a former electronics plant on Airport Road had contaminated the groundwater, making even some houses uninhabitable.

The company that inherited the old electronics company installed a remediation plant, pulling water out of the ground and allowing the solvent to evaporate.

The City Council struggled to find a solution, purchasing the old air base for a wellfield, only to sell it at a loss once wartime contamination concerns were raised.

Frontier County landowner opposition derailed a plan for bringing clean water from that county to McCook.

The city, taxpayers and water customers, finally bit the bullet and installed a $14 million state-of-the-art water treatment plant, using the ion exchange process to remove arsenic, uranium and nitrate from water pumped from the city's existing wellfield at a cost of about a million dollars a year, not to mention paying off the debt of building the plant.

Water bills have quadrupled in the decades since nitrates became an issue, but quality is almost a nonissue, since the city is able blend treated and untreated water to bring the final supply into compliance with regulations.

It's a big job.

During October, McCook's water treatment plant processed its 5 billionth gallon since coming on line in February 2006.

The plant averages 1.8 million gallons per day, with a peak production of more than 5 million gallons a day -- 6.5 million gallons maximum.

Since it came on line, McCook's public water supply has met or exceeded safe drinking water standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Nebraska Department of Health.

"It takes a team effort to keep a facility of this size and complexity running smoothly," said Jesse Dutcher, utility director for the city.

"Many local companies and firms provide parts, operating supplies and technical input to the water department to keep the plant meeting the ever-changing demands of the drinking water industry. For that the water department extends a special thank you to the people and businesses of McCook," Dutcher said in a release issued Thursday afternoon.

Our community will face many opportunities as well as problems in the coming years. Yes, it has taken a major investment that continues to be expensive every year, but providing clean drinking water to our citizens won't likely be one of the problems.

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