Kansas town faces big obstacle to restore water service

FONTANA, Kan. - Water is usually a resource that gives life, but paying for it is sucking the vitality out of a small Kansas town.

The town of Fontana has been under a boil order since Friday and will continue to be until bacteria tests return with acceptable levels.

Resident Toni Niesz has noticed the difference.

"When it first comes out, of course, it's brown," she said.

Mayor Jonathan Beachy spent part of his Christmas Eve driving around town, distributing 4-gallon jugs of drinking water donated by Price Chopper. While the majority of residents have to boil their water, some have lost service altogether.

The problem started three weeks ago when Fontana officials noticed the city well had nearly gone dry, thanks to the drought.

Then this weekend, crews discovered a pipe leaking in the worst place possible: beneath train tracks. Beachy said BNSF Railway charges $20,000 just to dig beneath the rails.

"We're in talks with Burlington Northern at this point and trying to discuss what our options are," Beachy said.

But with a town budget of less than $10,000 per year, it's a costly fix Fontana can't afford. Plus, Beachy said the town has already spent more than $1,500 to truck in drinking water for those who can still get it.

Beachy worries what it could all mean.

"I have lost sleep for the last three weeks over worrying what this is doing to my town," Beachy said.

He thinks a permanent solution could be hooking up with the rural water district, but that could cost upwards of $1 million. Beachy hopes grants will help his town of 200 take care of its water solution for good.

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