Fewer than 700 people in a small Kansas town face a multi-million dollar bill for fixing their water system. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told city leaders in Pretty Prairie nitrate levels are too high and must be fixed.
The problem with too many nitrates in the water in Pretty Prairie has been growing over the last few years. By now, most residents buy bottled water for all of their cooking and drinking needs. In order to fix everything, it could cost every customer in the town anywhere from $5,300 to more than $15,000, depending on what the city council does.
"No way," said Pretty Prairie resident Kari Stropes about the city's ability to pay the bill. "You know, we're farming community. There's no way."
"You can do the math," said Steve Schrag, a Pretty Prairie City Councilman. "Even the $1.6 [million] is a burden."
That $1.6 million is the least the city of Pretty Prairie would have to pay to meet EPA requirements to lower nitrate levels in its water.
"This is going to put a huge burden on our community," said City Councilwoman Katie Belden. "The last thing we want is for this town to go bankrupt."
The bill could go as high as $4.6 million if the city decides to update its aging infrastructure at the same time, replacing outdated water mains and the city's water tower.
"I don't think we've ever been financially secure enough to take care of something of this scope," said City Councilman Ron Hedgecock about why Pretty Prairie hadn't dealt with the problem before this.
The cost would be shared by the city's 300 water customers.
"We'll let them decide and then complain when the taxes go up to pay for it," said Roy Goering, who lives in Pretty Prairie.
Residents say the water's been a problem for decades, from clogging and damaging showers and appliances to forcing them to buy more water for drinking.
"It's ridiculous," said Stropes.
City leaders say Pretty Prairie isn't alone in Reno County, struggling to meet the EPA's demands for changes.
"It's not a Pretty Prairie problem," said Hedgecock. "It's a regional, state, national problem. But we're carrying the burden."
The council is headed to Topeka next Tuesday in hopes of finding state and federal grants to help pay for all of this. And maybe allow them to do more than the most basic of repairs. There will be a special council meeting later in the month to discuss what they learned and make decisions.
Meanwhile, some citizens have already installed water treatment equipment in their homes. Others continue to drink the water.
According to the EPA, the high nitrate levels could be deadly for infants under six months old and could also cause medical problems for pregnant women.