News Feature | November 6, 2014

Nebraska City Fights Nitrates With $46 Million Project

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

A utility in Nebraska is considering a major aquifer project to help it keep nitrates at safe levels.

Hastings, NE, is below that danger threshold for nitrates, "but went from 4.7 ppm in 1997 to 7.3 ppm now," according to NTV ABC.

The solution?

"Hastings will put in wells to pump that top nitrate-heavy water [from the aquifer] into big above ground holding ponds constructed west of North Baltimore Ave. near 18th Street. At the same time, the cleaner water from farther down gets injected back into the aquifer," the report said.

The project means the city will soon have some new scenery.

"The cornfield along the west side of North Baltimore Avenue between West 18th Street and Pacific Boulevard soon will be replaced by a pair of lagoons on top of a 14-foot-tall berm," the Hastings Tribune reported.

The project has been dubbed the “Aquifer Storage and Restoration Project.”

"Basically it's a water-swapping system meant to keep Hastings' drinking water safe for all," the NTV ABC report said.

The effort will not be light on spending.

"The project's price tag: $46 million. But [a utility official] says a treatment plant would run around $76 million or higher," the report said. "Customers saw a 10 percent rate increase this year, and the Hastings Utilities board will likely need to raise them again."

Hastings Utilities customer relations coordinator Steve Cogley explained the thinking behind the project.

“What we're trying to do is water down the water,” he said, per the report. “What we found is the very highest levels of nitrate concentration in the underground aquifer is right at the top of the aquifer.”

How urgent is the nitrate problem in Hastings?

"If left unchecked, in two short years Hastings wouldn't have enough clean water for customers, as nitrates, believed to have traveled from farms, continue into the water supply," NTV ABC previously reported.

The project is also intended to fight uranium. "Uranium levels have also been rising. The project should alleviate that along with the nitrates," the report said.