By Steve White, Grand Island Bureau Chief - bio | email
Hastings is confronting an environmental concern that could affect the city's drinking water.
"I don't want to tell people they can't drink water in the city of Hastings," utilities employee Marty Stange said.
In just three short years, by 2016, Hastings won't be able to meet water demand unless they deal with high nitrate levels now.
Stange said, "We're committed to supplying water into the future and that's under attack at this time."
Already the city has lost several wells. Stange explained a full scale treatment plant could cost $100 million.
With a price tag that big, they'd like to avoid that. There's another option, which includes dealing with the apparent source of the problem, fertilizer applications on area farms.
Farmer Chuck Rainforth said, "Get ahead of it, keep working on it."
Even though he's on the Natural Resources District board that passed new regulations, Rainforth is hesitant as many farmers are.
"Something new everyone complains about it, and I do the same thing because I've been on both sides of it," he said.
Little Blue Water Specialist Daryl Andersen said they want to work with farmers, and even have programs to share costs.
He said, "It's an evil that nobody wants to do, is more regulation, but we emphasize the education side of it. We want to educate people that we're regulating not because we want to but sometimes you've got to get everybody on the same page."
Farmers in the Little Blue NRD area around Hastings must attend training sessions like the one held this week, before they can fertilize.
It's all in an effort to reduce nitrate levels.
Andersen said, "We know nitrates have come from 20, 30 years ago but we need to start now and see if we can get improvement with nitrate levels."
Reducing fertilizer is just one part of the solution. Hastings will likely still need a treatment plant, but Marty Stange hopes to avoid that $100 million price tag.
"We can solve the problem if we just give ourselves a chance to do that," he said.
They're not just targeting farmers. If you have a big enough lawn in the Hastings area, you too may need a permit.
Andersen said the NRD is also looking for areas of good water to see what they can learn from it.