Family left without water amid real estate mistake, tight water supply
LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - The counter is littered with glass jars full of water. There’s a case of bottled water, and a gallon jug dispenser in the kitchen and buckets of water in the bathrooms to flush the toilet.
“We got horse tanks, like bigger tanks for the animals,” Jenni Gall said. “I got a swimming pool to fill for the dog water.”
This went on for two weeks, after Lancaster County Rural Water District 1 shut off their water service over a mistake made by the previous owner of the land that leaves the house without a meter.
“This consumes your life,” Gall said. “Because everything you do requires water.”
Now there’s slight improvement, thanks to a semi truck trailer full of water parked out front being pumped inside.
“That water in the semi, we only use for like toilets and showers and that type of stuff,” Gall said.
This patchwork water system is a temporary solution to a problem the Galls have been trying to solve since they moved into their new home in October 2022. Gall said after the real estate deal was closed, the paperwork signed and boxes moved in, officials with Rural Water District 1 stopped by.
“They did the final read on the meter, and told us the meter was not on our property,” Gall said.
The land the Gall’s home sits on used to be part of a 76 acre tract the previous owners split up. The way the land was split put the water meter on the wrong side of the property line. This means that even though their home got water from that meter for 40 years, the Galls are now technically new customers and would need to go through the application process for a new meter.
This is when the Galls ran into another problem.
“They told us that they are not giving out water meters for at least five years because there’s a water shortage,” Gall said.
This means after several months of trying unsuccessfully to dig a well, in April, they got the final notice that on May 8th, their water would be turned off.
“I thought oh my gosh there’s no way they’re actually going to do this,” Gall said.
But they did.
“I think that because of the water shortage, they see this as an opportunity to get rid of a customer. And it’ll free them up for you know, having a better supply,” Gall said.
10/11 did an interview with Jordon Bang, manager of Rural Water District 1. Bang declined to comment on camera about the Gall’s situation, but provided this statement.
“Ultimately, this is an issue between the buyer and seller. The Rural Water District had a set of By-laws and policies and procedures as it follows. Our by-laws state: the water meter/benefit unit follows the title of the land. The previous owner should have contacted rural water to let the district know the separation of the original property before closing took place.”
Although Bang did not speak on the Gall’s situation, he did talk about why the district won’t add new customers and confirmed it could be years before that changes.
“What put us in these problems starting back in 2018, was the consumption of water that customers were demanding from the system, which the system was never designed for,” Bang said.
Band said in the summer, the customers the district serves in rural Lancaster and Cass County use nearly 40 million gallons a month, four times the amount used in the winter.
“Due to primarily the sprinkler systems,” Bang said.
The district implemented an odd/even watering schedule for customers a few years ago, and have increased charges after the first 70,000 gallons used. But with the county seeing its driest May in decades, putting the county in “exceptional drought” on the U.S. drought monitor for the first time, Bang said the system is already stressed to a new level.
Usage data from the districts “Tower 3″ on May 31st is an example of what the district sees all spring and summer.
“At 7:30 a.m. on the 31st of May we hit zero feet in that tower,” Bang said.
Because they had a secondary tower feeding the same customers, Bang said nobody lost water. But it rings the alarm bells for the district for what the summer could hold.
“If the weather conditions don’t change, and you see these patterns go into place, then we will have to issue a district wide moratorium on lawn sprinklers, you won’t be able to have those anymore,” Bang said.
Bang said because at times they can barely support the demand they currently have, they have no option but to not add new customers.
“To be honest with you, when you see levels like this, the rural water district is going to stay like it is without adding any customers unless those amounts drop, and you do some larger infrastructure changes to the district,” Bang said.
The Gall family is hoping the district will grant them an emergency exception because they aren’t technically a new customer.
“You know, it’s been service since 1982. And so in their bylaws, it actually states in an emergency situation, we will grant you know, a meter,” Gall said.
The Galls have already gone before the Rural Water District 1 board. The members voted 6-0 to turn off their water.
In the meantime, the Galls want to warn people who hope to put down roots in southeast Lancaster County.
“I think the people moving out here and building all these houses and putting in pools and these lavish yards and everything really need to consider their water supply in the future. It’s not what it used to be. It’s, you know, our climate is changing. Our weather is changing,” Jenni said.
This is part one of a 10/11 NOW series on water access in the area. If you’ve been impacted by the water shortage in the Lancaster County area, email email@example.com.
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