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July 20, 2003

Cities affected by water shortages
By Melissa Smith, Scottsbluff Herald

Though most people don't think of cities as business entities when it involves water, they are.

They are affected financially by water supply and quality issues in their areas. Nobody knows that better than Sidney City Manager Gary Person.

Last summer, the town suffered a major water crisis when a main well came dangerously close to going dry and residents were placed under stringent usage restrictions while some businesses went without water temporarily.

Two significant developments have evolved from that situation.

First, the city is working to build a new $9 million wellfield north of the city, with 10 new wells. A 22-mile pipeline will be constructed from the field to the city in two phases. The first portion is expected to be complete by late fall and will service the industrial area outside of town, which currently houses 27 companies employing 1,000 workers. The second phase will be finished in spring 2004, reaching city limits.

The city also is pursuing a $4 million solution to a nitrate contamination problem. Person said when residents and businesses get their future water bills, 60 to 65 percent of the rates they pay will go to pay for those two projects.

However, he said, after last summer's shortage, consumers seem to understand.

"The community as a whole seems really on board with this new project," he said. "They understand the seriousness of the situation."

In fact, he said, consumers are so conscientious they are saving so much water that the city's income is suffering. Customers have used 70 million gallons less this year than last.

"When you sell that much less water, it starts to hurt economically," he said. "We become our own worst enemy."

Despite the problems, Person remains optimistic about Sidney, which has been the Panhandle's fastest growing city.

"We want to reassure not only our citizens, but those people looking at investing in Sidney in the future. It's still a wise investment," he said. "We've got a great plan in place, and we're going to make a lot of things happen."

Handling the water problems by installing a new field will prove to be a sound decision, Person said.

"If we would have continued to let the water crisis bog us down, it would have caused serious economic problems," he said. "With this, I think the outlook is extremely good for Sidney's future. It's a tough, tough situation, and we are very comfortable and very confident that this is a long-term solution that's going to set our community in exceptionally good shape for a long time to come."

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