Nebraska Power Company: Water utility?

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One of the five, 350-gallon tank wagon that delivered potable water to Omaha residents. OPPD archive photo

In late summer of 1923, typhoid, dysentery and other water-borne diseases infiltrated Omaha’s water supply, shutting down water service to thousands.

Nebraska Power Company (the precursor of OPPD) saw a way to help. The utility used their power plants to distill thousands of gallons of water, then distributed the potable water to those in need across the city.

In the September 1923 Flash magazine, it was reported that the city’s streetcar company told the utility that it would need 40,000 gallons of water per day or the streetcars would have to be shut down. Burlington railroad also utilized water distilled from the power plant, as did thousands of individual residents.

An article from the Aug. 27, 1923 Chicago Tribune detailing the typhoid outbreak in Omaha.
An article from the Aug. 27, 1923 Chicago Tribune detailing the typhoid outbreak in Omaha.

To respond to the need, Nebraska Power centralized the distillation of the water and raised the capacity of the power plants to 120,000 gallons per day. Once the supply was secured, the utility set about to distributing the water to Omaha residents.

Five tank wagons that could hold 350 gallons each were sent to various areas of the city during the week of the crisis, delivering more than 72,000 gallons of water. Both trucks and cars made emergency deliveries of more than 3,000 gallons of water to about 400 families who had members who were sick or infants.

Between the public and industrial needs, about 500,000 gallons of water was given out by Nebraska Power.

According to newspaper accounts, the infection of the water was attributed to contaminated soil located above the intake to the city water plant. The current of the Missouri River washed the soil into the plant, contaminating the water supply. At that time, it was estimated it would be between 10 days and two weeks before the diseases were flushed from the system.


Laura King-Homan

About Laura King-Homan

Laura King-Homan is the managing editor of The Wire and a communications specialist at the Omaha Public Power District. She has nearly 20 years of print journalism and design experience, including the Omaha World-Herald.

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