Rural Water Systems Confront Regulation, Contamination, Drought


Plagued by contamination, regulation, and drought, Nebraska's rural water systems navigate difficult times.

"Of course we want safe water, of course we want clean air," Congressman Adrian Smith said.

But Smith says when rural water operators get bogged down in bureaucracy, enough is enough.

He said, "They spend more time filling out paperwork than actually working on the infrastructure that they are responsible for."

Smith says the EPA is out of control, which is why he pushes for budget cuts to that agency.

He said, "I want to make sure that's not done in a manner that makes it difficult for local officials, but we're constantly having discussions how can we streamline regulations."

Regulations also come at the local level. Natural Resources Districts are part of the equation, in a balance to make sure there's enough water for irrigators, wildlife, businesses, and homes.

Aurora Public Works Director Eric Melcher said, "There's a lot of water being used by several other entities. Everybody has a need, they're all important, we have to come to a common use and quantity to maintain for the public."

Aurora gets its water straight from the Ogallala Aquifer, where levels have dropped three feet this year.

Melcher said, "We're finding that the drought is affecting us as far as water quantity and quality. We have a lot of concerns there."

Cities as big as Grand Island and Hastings, and as small as Clarks have embarked on treatment plants to deal with uranium and nitrates.

Those with the Rural Water Association like the group's president Tom Goulette say city water managers must work with regulators and agricultural interests.

He said, "We have a common goal, and that's water. Water is a limited resource, there's a finite amount out there and we're working on it constantly."

Treating water for uranium or nitrates costs millions and million and is something members of this group hope to avoid.

The group also honored Curtis, which recently received an award for having the nation's best water.