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Gering learns about regional water system
August 27, 2015 Jerry Purvis   

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A project that could potentially create a regional pipeline to provide surface water to communities in both Wyoming and Nebraska was presented to members of the Gering City Council during their Monday meeting.

Dave Schaff, engineer with M.C. Schaff and Associates, discussed a study done in 2010 for the Platte Alliance Water Supply project. “This got started when some Wyoming municipalities came to Nebraska to see if we would participate,” Schaff said. “It’s a regional water system concept that runs from Guernsey along the North Platte River Valley down to Bridgeport.”

Municipalities along the route are currently pumping groundwater to supply their populations. However, contaminants continue to rise as more water is pumped. That puts municipalities out of compliance with federal standards that continue to be lowered. And treating water can be an expensive process for smaller communities.

Schaff said the study, funded in part by the Bureau of Reclamation, is the first step to see if the project is worth pursuing.
The Guernsey to Bridgeport route includes 12 communities in Nebraska and 11 in Wyoming. The largest include Scottsbluff, Gering and Torrington.

“Having one system with a single operator makes more sense than having every community treating their own water,” Schaff said. “That’s the general consensus of a regional water system. Plus there are fewer water contaminants the farther upstream we go.”
He said another advantage is that system would carry surface water, which is more economically and easily treated than groundwater.
“The treated water would be piped down the valley and provided for purchase to all communities along the line,” he said. “We’re not taking over operation of anyone’s municipal water system.”
An upstream plant would need to be built to treat 72 million gallons of water a day. Expansion of 34 million gallons a day would be possible as population increases. “This is not a new water use,” Schaff emphasized. “We wanted to make sure we didn’t open a new can of worms in the ongoing debate between the two states over water rights.”

Possible sites the study considered for building a treatment plant included Gray Rocks Reservoir, just east of Guernsey. However, that reservoir is privately owned by Basin Electric as a cooling facility.
Whalen Canyon Reservoir, just south of Guernsey, was also considered as a potential site.

Another possibility the study considered was building a new dam, but current federal restrictions on those projects would make it difficult to complete.

About 100 miles of pipe would be required to carry the water down the valley. With pressure reducing stations, there’s also the potential for generating some hydroelectric power.

Capital costs for the project are roughly $320 million and about $12.7 for operating costs. That cost would be shared among the 23 communities along the route. The system could be paid for in about 12 years.

Schaff said the next step is a more detailed three-year feasibility study that would run in the neighborhood of $650,000. “That study would lay out the mitigation, water rights and narrow down which site would make the most economic sense.”

Schaff said the project is a good long-term solution because a regional system would especially benefit smaller communities. It helps spread out the costs over all participating municipalities.
Gering Public Works Director Pat Heath said his department will bring a letter to council recommending support of the feasibility study. “We do have some reservations because we’ve spent a lot of money upgrading our water system because of federal regulations,” Heath said. “It’s just too bad this wasn’t something that happened years ago. It would have been a real benefit to everyone.”
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