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January 3, 2003
Omaha World-Herald

Kearney wants residents to think water conservation

City officials plan to teach residents how to conserve water before the warm weather demands of lawn watering and car washing kick in this year.

Kirk Stocker, Kearney's director of utilities, said the city is promoting conservation because it beats voluntary or forced rationing in case water supplies don't match demand.

That was the case in many Nebraska communities and natural resource districts last summer, when drought saw some wells and tributaries run dry. A peak of 59 communities had imposed water rationing and lawn-watering restrictions by mid-August.

Kearney managed to avoid restrictions, even as last summer went down as one of its driest on record. But Stocker warned that a lack of snowfall this winter could lead to rationing in 2003.

In an attempt to prompt more Kearney residents to conserve water, the city's Web site is posting tips, and local utility bills will carry brochures to teach and promote conservation. Books on landscaping to save water are available at the Kearney Public Library and Information Center.

Winter is a good time to begin conservation practices, Stocker said, because without lawn watering, it's possible to get a better idea how much water a household is consuming - or wasting.

"Winter is a good time to observe for leaks, like running toilets," he said.

After getting a handle on household consumption, residents then are ready for summer, when they can learn to avoid wasting water as they maintain their lawns, he said.

"The average bluegrass lawn requires about 1 to 11/2 inches of water per week. You can measure how much you're putting on with a little tuna can," Stocker said. "If you water three times a week and fill the can about one-third full each time, then you've put on about 1 inch of water."

Stocker said even though the Platte River ran dry 20 days in 2002, the city's water pumping was not compromised. Kearney's 15 wells can produce 25 million gallons per day when the aquifer is full.

Because Kearney's Platte River wellfields depend on normal amounts of snowfall upstream, city officials plan to develop an alternate wellfield estimated at $13 million in the Ogallala Aquifer northwest of town.

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