Months after destruction of Spencer Dam, local water is still unsafe to drink, use

“The water looked like espresso,” said Nicole Bentz, as she watched her pool fill up with the local water.

Bentz owns the community pool in Spencer, Nebraska, and the same water that was filling her pool was the very water flowing through the pipes, faucets, bathtubs and toilets in the towns of Spencer and Lynch.

This undrinkable and unusable water was in Spencer, still in July, as a result of the March flooding that destroyed the nearby 92-year-old Spencer dam.

The destruction, Tim Gokie, chief engineer of the state’s dam safety program, said, may be the first dam failure in the nation related to ice flows.

Bentz, like many others were shocked by the flooding, and rely on clean water not only for day-to-day living, but her livelihood and business relies on it as well. 

With so much relying on Spencer solving the issue of clean water, the clock was ticking.

Using trucks to haul fresh water from a nearby well, owned simply by a resident of the town, Bentz had enough water to fill her pool.

However, the town itself still had no clean drinking water. So, how long until they get clean water back? 

Well, it could still be a while yet, says Rex Black, the president of the Boyd County Rural Water District.

Black and the district oversees the plans of obtaining fresh water in the future as well as day-to-day operations involving the Niobrara River, the local well systems and the water transportation.

Black said they still need a lot to happen, for safe water to begin pumping again.

In the meantime, people have donated enough canned water, which is stored in a local 4H building, that local residents can come to pick it up.

On top of that, other organizations across the state have helped them out as well such as Clayton Riesen’s Farmers State Bank in Chadron.

“I couldn’t tell you how long it will be until we have water again,” Black said. “It could be two months, three months… I sure hope it’s not six months.”

The reason it could take so long is because the costs to repair their well water system and piping system is estimated to be roughly over $2,000,000.

Furthermore, according to Black, FEMA will cover some of this cost but not all of it, meaning it would be up to local residents to muster up the rest.

To add insult to injury, the district is starting even further back, as in March, they owed approximately $1,000,000 in loans from their last expansion project (GoFundMe Team on behalf of Rex Black) which was still not paid off.

Setting an immediate goal of $400,000, and achieving that goal would prospectively allow them to attain temporary water relief, boring of a new water line, and repairs/expenses from the flood devastation.

As daunting as this seems however, people like Black and Bentz are hopeful that they will overcome this obstacle in the long run.

“Nebraskans are resilient,” Black said. “Everything will be alright.”

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