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November 30, 2003

Catching leaks called crucial during drought
by Associated Press

KEARNEY, NE (AP) -- State environment officials say a town's ability to detect leaks in its water system is imperative, especially during a drought.

In some towns, one-third of the water being pumped never gets to customers because of leaky water mains, said Jack Daniel, who monitors water wells for the State Health and Human Services System.

That's one of the reasons state officials have spent several years educating utility managers about the importance of monitoring water supplies and patching leaky pipes.

Education and monitoring are two parts of the state's drought mitigation and response plan adopted in June 26, 2000. At the time it was implemented, Nebraska was one of only three states with a drought plan, Daniel said.

The plan includes periodic drought meetings involving the governor and state agency officials, Daniel said last week at the annual joint meeting of the Nebraska Water Resources Association and Nebraska State Irrigation Association held in Kearney.

Discussions at the meetings tend to center on identifying the capacity of municipal systems to supply water in dry conditions and ways towns can help themselves.

"Our water systems are old. It's not a problem as long as you can maintain positive pressure," Daniel said.

Measures include installing water meters, using monitoring wells and seeking state agency help with leak-detection tests.

"We recognize that it is possible for a system to run out of water," Daniel said, even if utility officials do everything right.

In 2002, several systems had to limit water use to only household uses.

Those with severe supply or contamination problems can turn to the expensive option of hiring milk haulers and others with suitable bulk transportation equipment to deliver water, Daniel said. It cost $80,000 to do that for about a week several years ago at the Santee Reservation in northeast Nebraska, he said.

"Plus, it's hard to find milk haulers west of Kearney anymore," Daniel said.

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