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Water in central Nebraska: Where it comes from & how taste is influenced

In 2010, Nebraskans were using 5 to 10 million gallons of water a day, according to the U.S. Geological Survey's Science Project. (MGN Online)

"Water is the new gold," said Tony Jelinek, utilities director for the city of Kearney.

In 2010, Nebraskans were using 5 to 10 million gallons of water a day, according to the U.S. Geological Survey's Science Project.

"On average we're pumping 6 million gallons of water a day," said Jelinek, when asked how much water the city of Kearney uses.

Jelinek says just about everyone in central Nebraska is drinking ground water, straight from the Ogallala Aquifer.

"We're very lucky to be sitting here in Central Nebraska on top of the Ogallala aquifer. That is a huge water source for us," said Jelinek.

This underground basin spans eight states, stretching from South Dakota to Texas. Some communities are able to use this water straight from the ground, but in Kearney this liquid gold has to be treated before it gets to customers.

"Regulations that require us to do the disinfection, because we're under the influence of the surface water," said Jelinek.

Jelinek says the Platte River helps recharge the aquifer in this part of the state, and getting the water up to standard can leave your taste buds feeling disappointed.

"The reasoning behind the chlorine taste in our water is because of our disinfection process," said Jelinek.

In Kearney, water is carried from wells reaching deep into the earth to an ultra–violet disinfecting building.

"When the water leaves here, there's an amount of chlorine that's added and as it's going through the system, there is organics that's naturally occurring in the water. That chlorine is being used up by all that natural organic material, and at the very far end we still have to have some free chlorine, residual chlorine remaining in it. So, if there was more organics in it, the chlorine could still react with it," said Jelinek.

The director of utilities says he's heard grumblings about the chlorine taste.

"We mainly hear it from people that come in from out of town, because they aren't used to tasting the chlorinated water. Especially if they live on a farm or some place that utilizes ground water that's not treated," said Jelinek.

Places like Curtis, Nebraska.

"It's unfiltered. It's pure, not treated. It comes straight out of these pumps in this well and straight into the tap," said Doug Schultz, the administrator, clerk & treasurer for the city of Curtis.

Curtis has two state titles for its drinking water.

"We're the only city in the state of Nebraska that's won the national championship. We sit on top of the Ogallala Aquifer. It's basically naturally filtered through the Sandhills of Nebraska. Water that's rain and snow. It settles down through the Sandhills and pools up clear down below the ground. It pools up and comes out of this well here crystal clear," said Schultz.

Schultz says the water in Curtis is so good, visitors and even college students take it by the gallons

"They'll take a jug of water back home with them," said Schultz.

Schultz believes Curtis' water has untapped business potential.

"Right now it's just utilized by the citizens of Curtis. It'd be awesome if someone would share the water with the whole United States somehow," said Schultz.

Right now, there's concern about the future of the Ogallala Aquifer. Scientists say the giant basin is no longer keeping up with demand.

National Geographic calls it the vanishing aquifer. Two–thirds of the Ogallala’s water reserves underlie the state, but scientists say pumping by thousands of Nebraska farmers is draining it away.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has developed a plan to help reduce aquifer water use, for more information, click here.

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