Photo: flooding of the Missouri River at Rulo, Nebraska in 2019.
A $485,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED) will help the village of Rulo, Nebraska restore and rebuild major components of its municipal water system, damaged during last year’s historic flooding.
A total of 272 days passed before the Missouri River at Rulo fell below flood levels in the aftermath of the March 2019 catastrophe. Lying in the path of destruction, alongside many devastated homes, were several residential water meters. Located underground, the meters were found either destroyed or covered in multiple feet of silt when the river subsided. To this day, Rulo must bill its customers for their water usage on the basis of estimate.
Even before the flooding, Rulo’s aging water meters had made it nearly impossible to detect and pinpoint leaks in the system. This problem took on heightened importance in the spring of 2020, when the village clerk noticed a rapid spike in water use but had no way to track down the source. Ultimately, workers and board volunteers resorted to driving around town, scanning for homes with foggy windows. The source of the leak was eventually found, but not before nearly 200,000 un-recoupable gallons were lost.
In a normal year, financial support to address the metering issue may have come from the local Keno fund. Not so today, when COVID-19 has created hard times and tightened budgets for so many — including the local restaurant that is the Village’s only Keno contractor.
This month, however, help did arrive in the form of a CDBG grant under the program’s Emergent Threat category.
A federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) resource that is administered by DED on behalf of greater Nebraska, CDBG provides flexible funding opportunities to help communities tackle local objectives — from housing rehabilitation, to tourism development, to public works improvements and more.
“CDBG is an invaluable tool that can help our communities surmount financial obstacles and meet their challenges head-on,” said DED Director Anthony L. Goins. “It can also be a launchpad for local development and community betterment projects that need additional assistance to get off the ground. Our Department is proud and privileged to administer CDBG funding on behalf of our cities, towns and villages throughout the state.”
Each of Nebraska’s nine CDBG funding opportunities is designed to achieve a somewhat different goal. For example, DED implemented the Emergent Threat category shortly after March 2019 to help communities respond to the floods and prepare for future threats to public health and safety. What the categories all have in common is their alignment with one or more core objectives; namely, that of benefitting low-to-moderate income persons, preventing or eliminating slum and blight conditions, or, like Emergent Threat, solving catastrophic health and safety threats.
With over 52% of its 190 inhabitants classified as low-to-moderate income, Rulo was able to access the CDBG program through DED to finance 100 percent of the cost of its water meter replacement project.
“It has been my goal as the clerk-treasurer to ensure that Rulo and its citizens are not forgotten when it comes to assistance,” said Clerk-Treasurer Shannon “Shay” Homeyer. … “The flood and now COVID-19 have really hurt our town and businesses. Safe drinking water is our number one priority. Luckily, Rulo did not have a boil order like many towns did during the 2019 flood. Having an older system creates many problems, and a massive leak while covered in water is a very real possibility. Thanks to the Emergent Threat grant, we will be able to do the FEMA repairs required as well as the needed meter upgrades, and we are very thankful. Having an active and supportive board makes all of these visions possible, and I am thankful to have their support.”
Yet Rulo has better plans in store than to simply replace its aging and flood-prone water meters. Instead, it will harness its CDBG grant to install a metering system that will be not only more resilient, but cost-saving for the Village and its residents.
By making the switch to more modern, radio read meters, Rulo plans to address a number of key issues. For one, the new aboveground system will be less prone to flood damage. Two, the high-tech meters will be more accurate and, because they’re radio-based, more convenient; utility personnel will no longer need to visit each home, crawl partway into a hole in the ground and physically record usage data — they’ll simply drive around the neighborhood collecting it on a laptop. Finally, the new meters will help the Village quickly detect leaks. Combined, these capabilities will equate to enhanced efficiency and potential cost savings for the Village — leaving more room to address other town priorities.
“The Village of Rulo was hit hard by the historic 2019 flooding, but the small community is committed to not only recovering but increasing their resiliency in the process,” said Denni Mitchell, Community Development Specialist at Southeast Nebraska Development District (SENDD), which is providing project support. “This project is another step toward that goal. SENDD is excited to be assisting Rulo with this project and helping them meet their needs for a more resilient future.”
For more information on the CDBG program, including how to apply, visit https://opportunity.nebraska.gov/program/community-development-block-grant/.