Finding an abundant supply of clean drinking water was a growing problem for the tiny community of Harrisburg, county seat of Banner County in western Nebraska. Residents drilled their own wells to obtain water, but it was difficult to find in the semi-arid region. They tapped into groundwater found principally in the Brule Formation, a clay-like material that water doesn’t readily move through. Rather, water is found mostly in fractured clay layers within the Formation. As time passed and water became increasingly difficult to find, one family after another hooked up to the one good well in the community that was owned by the local bank. Eventually there were more than 15 hook-ups serving more than 25 people on the system. By definition, the one village well had become a “public water system.”
Concerns developed about the lack of water pressure and insufficient water supply that could no longer meet peoples’ needs. At times, people could not even shower or run washing machines. Nitrite levels in the water also became a great concern. It was at this point that the bank wanted out of the public water supply business. The village turned to the North Platte Natural Resource District (NRD) to help find a solution to the problem.
The NRD determined that a new source of water had to be found and quick, and a quality water distribution system built. An engineering firm was hired to accomplish both tasks. Funding the project proved challenging because there was absolutely no available money. However, funding sources were eventually identified. The NRD worked with Banner County Commissioners to apply for funding through the Nebraska Department of Economic Development’s (DED), Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development (USDA RD).
With funding falling into place, the engineering consulting firm with help from a NRD geologist located a new, reliable water source three and a half miles away from Harrisburg. Easements and land rights were obtained for construction of a new water system. Initially, two wells were drilled, a storage tank constructed, and pipelines and a portion of the distribution system was installed so the system could begin providing quality drinking water for the community.
In 1999, the NRD and Banner County Commissioners, at the urging of the Nebraska Health and Human Services System, obtained additional grants through DED and the USDA RD to complete the distribution system and drill a third well.
Harrisburg has gone from a substandard, haphazard system, to a brand new system that not only meets all federal and state government regulations on public drinking water, but also provides an abundant supply of quality water that consistently meets the needs of the village’s 100-plus residents.