More than 100 years ago, city leaders decided there was not enough groundwater in the Lincoln area to support a growing city.
So they began planning for the future by looking east to the Platte River and establishing a well field and treatment plant in Ashland that provides Lincoln water today.
Now city leaders are again planning ahead 20-25 years, when there may not be enough water in the Platte well field to satisfy the water demands of a still-growing Lincoln.
The Lincoln City Council last week unanimously approved an almost $98,000 contract with HDR Engineering to study whether it is feasible for Lincoln to get water in the future from Omaha’s Metropolitan Utility District (MUD).
The HDR study will look at how water might get to Lincoln and how much sharing might cost.
The financial model would look at a variety of things, including what the cost would be if Lincoln owned and operated one of the MUD facilities, said Steve Owen, superintendent of water production.
Right now, there's plenty of water, said Donna Garden, assistant director of Public Works and Utilities. The issue is the future, looking ahead to 2040 and 2045.
This is just an initial step in looking at the technical, logistical and financial issues, she said.
The city is also looking at getting water from the Missouri River in the future, so it just seemed natural to look at another water utility close by, Owen said during a City Council meeting.
The city will likely have to spend about $1.2 billion developing new water sources, based on early planning estimates. That means any project will probably “take a regional flavor,” Owen said.
That kind of cost and infrastructure is pretty big and very likely requires some different partners, Owen said.
The city will start saving money for future water supply needs, setting aside $1 million next fiscal year with plans to save about $2 million a year in future years, Garden said.
The study, split between the two utilities, establishes an equal partnership, she said. And "it provides direction for both utilities on whether it is a feasible option to continue this discussion.”
MUD has enough capacity to share, according to discussion with the City Council this week. MUD has a capacity of 300 million gallons a day, with peak water usage at 224 million gallons a day, said Dave DeBoer, with MUD. “That capacity will take us down the road.”
This study is a natural part in that constant planning process that water utilities do, Owen said.
That planning started in the late 1880s when the Lincoln Water System dug its first well and began constructing new wells along Antelope Creek, near what is now the Children’s Zoo, he said.
In the early 1900s, the city began developing the well field and treatment plant in Ashland and putting in the 36-inch pipe to Lincoln that is still used today, he said.
"This is our natural progression looking out to the future. We are doing just what forefathers and foremothers did before us," Garden said.