Treating Uranium Will Be Costly for Grand Island


    By Steve White

    A bite from a radioactive spider may spawn superheroes in the comics, but uranium in the water poses unique concerns in central Nebraska.

    A $3 million building is one Tim Luchsinger wishes he didn't have to build.

    "Unfortunately it's something we didn't want do," he said.

    But the city's got a radioactive problem. Grand Island draws water from a well field along the Platte River. Buildings house pumps that bring water into town. There are 21 pumps in all. But groundwater there contains uranium.

    Luchsinger said, "It's a naturally occurring substance from the mountains."

    If there's a health threat, it's from a lifetime of drinking the water. Grand Island falls within safe limits, but the levels are rising. So that explains the need for the treatment plan under construction.

    Luchsinger, the city's utilities director said, "It would be similar to the way a water softener works. Water runs through resin that takes out uranium. The difference between that and water softener we don't recharge resin. We will dispose of resin in a low-level radioactive waste site."

    The treatment plant will clean water from three pumps, and blend that water in with the rest of the city's supply to bring the overall level of uranium down. The cost of the treatment plant is $3 million. But the real expense comes to run it.

    "We will have an additional $800,000 per year of operational costs. Our total operations a
    year is around $2 million so it's a substantial increase for us to absorb," Luchsinger said.

    There will be a rate hike, the only question is how much. Luchsinger is proposing three options to the city council.

    He said, "Bad news is we need about 20 percent increase in revenue. Good news is that's about $2.50 per residential user per month."

    The city council will hear three options -- a flat rate hike, a percentage hike, or a meter fee. The biggest difference will be how much big industrial users have to pay.

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