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November 20, 2003

Rural water project shrinks
by Todd Von Kampen, Omaha World-Herald

Tony and Melanie Bonacci won't have to haul water forever to their country home west of Fort Calhoun, NE.

But farther south, Brian and Joyce Tietgen and their two daughters must hope their well doesn't dry up.

Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District officials thrilled some rural residents and disappointed others when they set the final shape of a $2.7 million rural water system south of Blair and west of Fort Calhoun.

Dick Sklenar, the NRD's special projects coordinator, said construction could begin in a year on the system, which rural acreage owners have sought since 2001.

Water would flow from the City of Blair to at least 230 households and a mobile home park in a 20-square-mile area.

That's less than half the area and one-third the potential customers identified in an earlier feasibility study.

Customers will include the Bonaccis, who were married in September and are slowly moving into a home on five acres a mile west of Fort Calhoun.

They almost didn't buy it when they learned the home's 120-gallon water tank depended on a dried-up well.

"Everyone trying to get water out here is drilling and drilling and not getting any water," said Tony Bonacci.

About 70 households will be refunded their $2,600 hookup fees, Sklenar said, because too few of their neighbors signed up for the NRD to afford an extension.

The unlucky ones include the Tietgens, who live on three acres a half-mile north of the Douglas County line.

Brian Tietgen, a retired farmer, wanted insurance against his 210-foot-deep well running dry. But none of his dozen or so neighbors signed up.

"Our water's OK, and we've got enough, but down the road with contamination and more and more demands on the aquifer, how long is it going to hold up?" he said.

Sklenar said about 100 households in the final service area have another chance to sign up. The NRD will charge $2,800 per household for late hookup fees, rising to $3,500 after July 1.

Wayne Talbert, whose well association pushed for water service, said he feels bad for residents who were left out.

Talbert and his neighbors knocked on dozens of doors to recruit customers. It took dry weather last summer to gain enough to build the system.

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