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October 15, 2003

Water line to replace tainted Grand Island wells
by Associated Press

Help is on the way for Grand Island residents who have been told not to drink their well water or even bathe or shower in it because of contaminants.

The City Council voted Tuesday to establish a new water extension district to clear the way for the city to install a water line to the neighborhood.

Wells serving at least 50 homes on the southwest edge of Grand Island have been contaminated by two industrial solvents.

While the source of the pollution remains under investigation, homeowners were asked to not use tap water for drinking, dishwashing, showering or bathing because the water could give off toxic vapors.

Last week, residents of the affected area handed in petitions waiving their normal 30-day protest period for establishing the water district.

"If the residents hadn't completed the petition, if the city hadn't expedited its project, this kind of construction would normally take months longer," said the city's utilities manager, Gary Mader.

The new water line project already has gone out for bids. Bids are due Friday, and the City Council will vote on awarding the contract Tuesday.

As a matter of policy and practice, the city has created water districts only in response to citizen requests, Mader said.

The city has no plans to try to bring any homes using private wells onto the city water system without homeowner requests.

Many people live within neighborhoods that have been part of Grand Island for decades but have never been hooked up to city water, Mader said. Some of those areas are on the outskirts of the city. They developed as unincorporated residential areas before being annexed.

Other neighborhoods are closer to the center of town but still have not been hooked up to city water.

Mader said he does not have any idea of he total number of residences within the city limits continuing to use private wells for drinking water.

He does know of a couple of fairly large areas that are not hooked up to city water.

Mader said that creation of a water district typically happens when a resident requests formation of one. People within the proposed district are notified and given a 30-day protest period.

When requested by property owners, the city often tries to give an estimate range of what the cost will be for the assessment to create the district, Mader said.

"That's not something we can say for certain until the bids are opened," Mader said.

A water district includes the construction of water mains, fire hydrants, all main valves and the service line stubs to the property. Those improvements are what the assessment covers.

The homeowner then must contract with a licensed plumber to connect the service line to the plumbing in the home.

Asked why people who live in the city would continue to use private wells instead of city water, Mader said: "I can't really speak for other people. I'm sure cost plays a part."

Mader noted that it is very easy to drill a usable well in this part of the country.

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