Water district gains users over past 40 years
ST. HELENA — “We were just trying to find good water,” said Lawrence Zavadil.
His wife, Mary Ann, agreed.
“We went through three hot water heaters in 10 years because of the calcium deposits in the water from the well on our farm, “ Mary Ann said.
The Zavadils have lived on the farm Lawrence’s dad purchased in 1929 in northern Cedar County all their married life. They were tired of the water quality.
So, Lawrence started on a journey, a search for good, quality water for his family, which lasted 40 years.
Interestingly, others were looking for good water, too. The Village of St. Helena came to the Lewis & Clark Natural Resources District (NRD) in 1978 when Lawrence was a board member.
The St. Helena residents wanted a better source of water for the small town. The need was discussed for St. Helena and a large area west of Crofton.
Tom Moser, manager of the NRD, moved the process ahead to conduct a survey, funded by the NRD with the help of Midwest Assistance Program. The group laid out a plan that included all the steps needed to look for water and how to procure it.
Individuals needed to canvas the areas and get input from the residents in the project’s scope from St. Helena to west of Crofton.
“When we started talking to people, it was hard to convince people to join the project when we didn’t know where we were going to get the good water,” Lawrence said.
But feasibility studies in 1980 were positive and the project would serve 200 individuals who had indicated they would sign up for service.
A board member from the western end of the proposed project suggested the water plant, which was built in the Devils Nest development 20 years ago.
It had never been used because the Devils Nest Corporation had gone bankrupt. Another plus was it was still in excellent condition, thanks to the solid construction completed by the Devils Nest developers.
The engineer said he needed to see that and an appointment was made to look at the plant.
“The engineer was amazed and said the plant was almost a Cadillac of water plants and at that time it was,” Zavadil said.
Zavadil said the group bought that $1 million plant for $360,000. Work started on the project in April 1981 and would cost $2.3 million.
Financing was secured with an FmHA grant and loans plus user contributions. Work was completed in October 1981.
The Cedar-Knox Rural Water Project started with 285 subscribers, including St. Helena. The City of Crofton eventually came on board.
The project came in under bid, and in two years less time than project managers had designated.
In 1984, the Menominee expansion added 16 users at a cost of $129,000. And in 1991, the villages of Fordyce and Obert asked to be included when state water regulations became more stringent.
This phase called the Bow Creek expansion added 125 users at a cost of $1,876,000 and hookups went up to $1,000. A storage well was added in 2003 at an expense of $350,000. but the rest of the line is well set with more than 800 customers currently.
Four years ago, the rural water district took advantage of computerized readings. Before that, monthly readings and recordkeeping were done manually by the district staff.
Zavadil himself has fond memories of the workings of the water plant because he has served as the manager and record keeper over the past. He also served as a director for the rural water district since its inception. He said he knows that plant inside out.
“We had monitors in the house which would go off if there was a problem at the water plant,” Zavadil said. “When it would go off in the middle of the night, my wife and kids were a little scared at first.”
One cold Easter morning, the alarm sounded. A tank at the plant was losing water fast, Zavadil said. He raced the 20 miles to the Devils Nest and as he turned into the plant, water was meeting him along the drive in the ditch.
A call to a Hartington crew was made, saying the water plant needed assistance now. Before church was over that morning, the line was fixed and none of the subscribers were even aware the water had been shut off.
The next big challenge is lake sediment, Zavadil said. The staff continually monitors the sediment level in Lewis & Clark in relation to their intake valve. But that will be someone else’s problem now.
At the ripe age of 88, Lawrence is ready to retire.