Boyd County pipe

Drinking water has been cut off to Boyd County since March flooding washed out an underground water main under the Niobrara River. But work is underway to pull a new pipe through a recently bored hole.

SPENCER, Neb. — Five months of work to restore drinking water to flood-ravaged Boyd County is nearing an end.

Workers on Tuesday began pulling a 16-inch, 4,200-foot-long water pipe through a recently completed tunnel beneath the Niobrara River.

Water could begin flowing again to the communities of Spencer, Lynch and Anoka, as well as nearby farms, in about two weeks, officials said. Because of required tests and sanitation work, the water may not be available for drinking for some time after that.

“There were a lot of weeks with discouraging news, but we’re past that now,” said Gail Spencer of the Boyd County Rural Water District #2. “Things are really starting to happen. Finally.”

The district gets its water from four wells on the south side of the Niobrara River. But when the river flooded in March and washed out the Spencer Dam, a new river channel was created. It washed away a water main to the north side of the river that had been buried about 6 or 7 feet deep.

The new water line will be 83 feet deep in its deepest portion underneath the river, which is about three times wider than it was before the flood. The old water line at its deepest point was 23 feet deep below the river.

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Rex Black, chairman of the water district board, said 83 feet may seem deep, but that was the depth where shale formations were most stable for boring a new hole underneath the river. Horizontal Boring of Exeter, Nebraska, is doing the work, which is expected to cost about $1.3 million.

Initial attempts to bore a hole were unsuccessful, which delayed progress. In the meantime, the water district refurbished three local irrigation wells to provide water temporarily for showering, washing and toilets. Local residents were provided free bottled water at local pickup points.

Black said the makeshift water supply wasn’t enough to water gardens and lawns, and water the estimated 40,000 head of cattle in the area. So restoring service from the district’s wells will be a welcome improvement, he said.

The next concern will be paying the district’s costs for the temporary and permanent fixes. The total expense is expected to be about $2 million, Black said, with the water district paying 25%. But the Federal Emergency Management Agency has said it may take four to five years before it pays its 75%, he said.

Black said the district has obtained a state loan, and raised funds online from a GoFundMe account, to cover its portion of the expenses and cover costs until the FEMA funds arrive.