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A community informational meeting regarding the The Columbus Recharge Project was held Wednesday evening at the Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) Training Center in Columbus.

Vice President of HDR Engineering Patrick Engelbert, whose company is designing the project, led the meeting. He said the groundwater levels in the area have been declining since 2010. The project is attempting to offset this decline. 

“A decline has occurred, the water table is lower, we just want to bring it up to the best we can,” Engelbert said. “We’ll never be able to get it back to what it was in 2010. We’re trying to go from what it is today to somewhere in-between.”

The plan is to install a series of supply wells along the Loup Power Tailrace Canal and pump this water via pipes into two recharge locations that will seep this water into the ground. The two areas selected are the former sandpit- turned-lake called Christopher’s Cove and The Lost Creek Channel located southwest of the cove.

In addition, a series of wooden boards or possibly a valve system will be installed at several pipe-like culverts located throughout Lost Creek. These dam-like structures will create a series of pond-like areas that will help further seep the water into the ground and be used to adjust the creek's water flow. The whole system will be operated and managed in part by the Lower Loup Natural Resource District and City of Columbus Public Works Department.

The project’s construction and 20 years worth of operation and maintenance costs are currently estimated to be around $2.4 million. As previously reported by The Columbus Telegram, ADM will provide $851,200 for the project and The Lower Loup Natural Resource District will contribute $243,200. The rest will be provided through government funding. 

Planning for the project began in the summer of 2014. The project is currently in the data collection and preliminary design phase. Engelbert said the goal is to finish the design phase a year from now and potentially begin construction around the spring of 2020.

Engelbert said the goal is to raise the groundwater level to help offset the amount of water the ADM ethanol plant in Columbus uses for cooling. He said the plant pumps over 4 million gallons of return water into the Tailrace Canal on a daily basis.

Kim Berger was one of approximately 30 people in attendance at the Wednesday meeting. She is a resident of the Medinger Sunrise subdivision, a residential area where the pipes for the project will go around at a 90-degree angle. She said many home owners living in the subdivision are concerned that raising the groundwater level will lead to flooding in their homes and basements.

“When it rains just a little bit, we have so much water out there, it’s insane,” she said of the Medinger Sunrise area. “Like, you can take an inner tube down the ditch in front of my home. The water table in our neighborhood is so high that I can’t even put an in-ground pool in. It’s too high to dig that low.”

Berger said flooding in the neighborhood was common in the past, but has diminished due to various flood control projects over the past few decades. Engelbert said the project wouldn't increase the chance of flooding.

He said that when the project is complete the groundwater level will still be 2-4 feet lower than it was in 2010. He also said a series of monitoring wells will be installed in order to check for potential flood conditions.

“We want to offset that decline, or begin to bring that water table backup, but we won’t do it at the expense of their basements,” he said. “That has been our instruction from the start, no third-party impacts, a good-neighbor policy”

After the Wednesday meeting, Berger said she still had concerns about flooding. She said her entire neighborhood is worried they will now have to start paying for flood insurance in order to raise the ground water level for others to benefit from.

“If their information is believable and backed up by data, I guess I feel OK about it," she said of her flooding concerns following the gathering. “To me, it seems like this project is because the people of the (Christopher’s Cove Homeowners Association) neighborhood are upset that their recreational lake is low. That’s kind of what it seems like to our whole neighborhood, and we have to pay for it.”

Eric Schucht is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at eric.schucht@lee.net.

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