EPA settlement requires McCook water sytem work
by Nancy Gaarder, Omaha World-Herald

A settlement filed Wednesday in federal court in Omaha firmly locks McCook, Neb., onto a path of improving its drinking and wastewater systems.

For years, the city has been in violation of federal water laws. And last year, the state, frustrated over a lack of progress, brought in the federal government to enforce improvements.

The settlement requires McCook to upgrade its sewer and drinking water systems and pay a minimum of $225,000 in fines.

City Manager John Bingham estimated that the improvements will cost about $18 million.

McCook's water has unsafe levels of nitrates and uranium, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. And, when new arsenic standards go into effect in 2006, it would be in violation of those standards, too.

Because of the nitrates, the water is especially unsafe for newborns and women who are pregnant or nursing.

Wastewater from the city contains too much ammonia, which is toxic to aquatic life.

Bingham said improvements to the drinking water system will be in place by March 2006 and problems with wastewater should be solved by October 2006.

The city already has raised water rates by more than 100 percent to pay for the improvements, with an additional steep increase coming this year.

If McCook does not closely follow the stipulations in the agreement, the fines could increase by another $75,500. The City Council has authorized the extra money in case it's needed.

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