Water at risk

WITH THE RISING Missouri River on the left and the city's water supply on the right, Martin Solin tosses a sandbag to Kennen Hager. Volunteers place bags atop the wall to provide a few more inches of protection for Lexington's public water supply.

LEXINGTON – More than 200 volunteers – children, women and men – worked together at the intersection of Broadway and Highland to protect Lexington’s public water supply from the rising Missouri River on Wednesday and Thursday. 

The crowd included Dennis Tombleson, 79.

“I can do this kind of stuff,” he said while lugging a full bag toward a pile of bags waiting to be loaded onto pallets. “It’s pretty important to save that drinking water.”

Forklifts carried full pallets downhill to the water treatment facility. There, about two dozen men and women hoisted sandbags onto walls surrounding the basin, a pool containing drinking water.

Volunteers at the facility included five members of the Mackenzie family. They worked in a chain to carry bags down from a grassy berm and through the Missouri River flood water that lapped at the basin’s concrete walls. The Mackenzies and other volunteers placed bags on top of the walls, adding a few more precious inches of protection to safeguard the city’s water supply.

The Missouri River is expected to crest at midday Friday

Lexington Wastewater Manager Joe Clifford helped oversee the sandbagging operation. While a forklift carried more bags downhill to resupply sandbaggers, he said that if the river gets into the supply, then water treatment operations would cease, Clifford said.

“We would not be pumping any water to the city,” Clifford said. “Right now, we have 800,000-plus gallons ‘in the air’ – we’re keeping our towers full. We’re covering ourselves so that we have at least two days of water in the air if something were to happen.”

The river lapped at the treatment facility’s walls, about 3 feet short of pouring over the top and into the water supply. Sandbaggers worried that a passing barge could send ripples against and possibly over the basin’s walls.

“This is being proactive instead of reactive,” Clifford said. “We don’t think it’s going to get over the walls that we have now, but we went ahead and sandbagged just to be sure.”

The city has little wiggle room between losing and saving the plant.

“That estimate that we (had) ... would be 5 inches from crossing into the basin pool,” Clifford said.

Mayor Fred Wiedner declared a state of emergency Wednesday, asking residents to conserve water, including outdoors. He also asked “all able-bodied residents” to help fill and transport sandbags. 

“We put out a cry for help today and hundreds have turned out,” Wiedner said while sandbag crews worked behind him at the water treatment facility and up the hill on Broadway. “It’s just amazing.

“That’s Lexington.”

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