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Public Expresses Doubt About Water Sourcing Project

By Gordon Hopkins
Members of the public expressed doubts about the long-term efficacy of Fairbury’s water sourcing project at a meeting of the city council on Tuesday, December 7.
The city relies on the East Wells and Crystal Springs to provide water to the public. Both the East Wells and Crystal Springs have consistently tested in the higher range for nitrates, meaning greater than seven ppm (parts per million) but less than 10 ppm, over the past several years.
The purpose of the water sourcing project is to locate a new, low-nitrate source of water. The Environmental Protection agency (EPA) has set the maximum contaminant level at 10 (ppm). Approximately 80 percent of Fairbury’s drinking water comes from Crystal Springs and high nitrate content has been a problem for a number of years.
In a memo to Fairbury Mayor Spencer Brown, City Administrator Robert Messbarger wrote, “In early 2021, the City of Fairbury was presented with an opportunity to cost share in a project with Little Blue NRD (Natural Resources District) to seek a new water source lower in nitrates (targeting a 0-3ppm range). The potential new water source is expected to provide high quality water source for the City of Fairbury for several decades, at a minimum, and will not require treatment.”
Several residents who live near the area of the proposed new wells attended the meeting. David Endorf, a farmer in the Daykin area, did most of the speaking, “My main farming operation is three miles north of your proposed wellsite. To be exact, three and a quarter miles north of the south well. I also own the West 80 of the south wellsite. In other words, I have an irrigation well within that south well quarter.”
“You and the Little Blue board have to realize that there are some serious questions whether going to this proposed wellsite is really going to solve your water quality problem for a long period of time. It is a short term Band-Aid fix, in my opinion.”
Because one land owner refuses to participate, the search for a new water source had to reach farther outside of town, meaning more pipe and more expense. As a result, the estimated cost for the project has increased from an estimated $4.2 million to more than $7 million.
“Nobody’s talked about what kind of easements it’s going to take. How much money is going to be involved in paying farmers for the right to bury a pipe across their ground? If your idea is to bury that pipe down the county road right away? I’m not sure that’s a wise idea,” Endorf said. “And you’ve already contacted plenty of landowners that don’t want these issues. They don’t want the wells on their property. They don’t want the water pipe on their property. You may have to pay some big bucks for easements.”
Well Locations
Endorf said, “Well number one is a possible floodplain. Somebody needs to look seriously at that. Well number three is possibly, also.”
Mayor Spencer Brown said he was unaware some of the proposed wells were in a floodplain, “So I appreciate that. I don’t think that’s ever come up in any conversation. Not that it hasn’t come up in conversation with the engineers but I haven’t heard those words.”
“Where I live, that three-and-a-quarter miles away from that south well, in 2000, my (nitrate) level was under one (ppm). In 2021, here, I’m about eight parts per million. Do you see a pattern here? It’s moving in from the northwest,” Endorf said.
At a previous meeting, Project Manager Mary Renn explained how the new wells would deal with the nitrate issue, “According to the engineers, nitrates tend to stay at the top of the aquifer. And this project’s intention is to have deep wells, 150 feet or deeper, and to draw that water slowly.”
Endorf said, “Now the NRD is telling you that that, oh, we’ll pump it deep and pump it slow. But when you have a dry year, like this year, and you have all the irrigation development that is to the north and the west of this proposed wellsite, there’s a whole lot of stirring of the aquifer going on. Because if you look to the north and west of this wellsite, literally every section of ground has between two and six irrigation wells on, plus a few domestic wells. It all causes of stirring, top to bottom, bottom to top, of your water.”
Endorf said, “We all know at least those of us that live up in that area that there is a plume of nitrates in the water coming from the northwest. The village of Bruning is already having issues. They’ve had to go to the Belvidere area to get clean, good water. Low in nitrates.”
According to Endorf, “We are concerned eventually, especially the well that is within the same quarter as your south well that’s proposed, that is the edge of that aquifer. The edge. You go a quarter mile south of that well and you probably won’t find water. I was extremely lucky to find water where I did because a quarter mile south, there have been test holes punched in there’s no water.”
“And when you pump water on from the edge of an aquifer, you’re asking for problems down the road if you’re looking for that as a long term solution,” said Endorf. “So my neighbors and I, and especially the well that I mentioned, we’re concerned about the long term viability of that well.”
If the project goes forward, those wells would become Fairbury’s primary water source. Endorf expressed concern about how that would impact his well, “How many millions of gallons of water are we going to pump out of that five well field?”
City Councilperson Doug Brown said, “We were using over a million gallons a day when everybody was sprinkling their yards this summer.”
“Answer me, what is going to happen to my well, that’s less than a half mile away, in two years, five years, 10 years? Is it going be dry?” Asked Endorf. “ And how are you going to compensate me? Do you have an answer?”
Mayor Brown said, “I understand your concerns about your wells going dry. I’m in the ag business. I get it. You know, it’s one of those things that we’re working hard to do the right thing, so I appreciate it.”
The alternative to find a new water source is to construct a water treatment plant. The exact cost of that is unknown but, according to Messbarger’s memo, “It is common knowledge that nitrates are an issue in the state of Nebraska and will continue to be. If nitrates from the City of Fairbury’s current water sources were to rise to l0 ppm, treatment would be required and would be very costly ($10M+).”
Endorf said, “So I’m not the type of person that that raises questions and doesn’t propose an answer. So here’s my proposed answer for you. Build a treatment plan. That is the long term solution, gentleman. Yes, it’s money. It’s big money. But quite frankly, by the time you develop a wellsite and pump water for 15 miles and pay big bucks for easements, and have that maintenance and upkeep. How many trips a day are you going to have to make up to check this wellsite? I think, quite frankly, you could probably build a treatment plant for less. If you build a treatment plant, you can probably use the water that that our ancestors started here in Fairbury with.”
Endorf also suggested another alternative, “The Little Blue started working with Alexandria and developing their wellsite. But there are possibilities to work with Alexandria and pump water straight south. You’re only talking about eight miles here instead of 15. Connect with the with the pipelines, pipes that connect between Gillead and in the Gladstone water tower. You’ve got a six inch line, as I understand, that goes from Fairbury up to the Gladstone water tower. That water line can be used pump water back into Fairbury if it’s needed. Those kinds of things need to be looked at need to be studied.”


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