The cities of Omaha and Council Bluffs have put a lid on hydrant parties this summer.
The parties have cooled off kids and entertained adults for years, but both cities have determined they are unnecessary in this summer of major flooding.
A Council Bluffs spokesman said firefighters are preoccupied with battling the Missouri River in addition to their firefighting duties. “We're really kind of stretched to the limit in terms of where the needs are,” spokesman Art Hill said.
In Omaha, where the hydrant parties are coordinated by the Parks and Recreation Department, there were different concerns. The city has provided hydrant parties to neighborhoods since the mid-1970s, said Parks Director Melinda Pearson. Typically the city selected about three sites a day, three days a week, Pearson said.
But this is no typical summer.
Omaha is installing numerous pumps on the riverfront in an effort to prevent Missouri River floodwaters from backing into a large combined stormwater-sewer system near the National Park Service headquarters.
Hydrant parties are “just an added burden to the stormwater system,” Pearson said. “It seemed like something we could do without this year.”
This came as disappointing news to Sandy and Ed Jackson, who have encouraged the Parks and Recreation Department to hold hydrant parties in front of their house, near Blondo Street and 102nd Avenue.
The city did so the past couple of summers. The Jacksons would pass out fliers and put up a sign in their front yard: “Hydrant Party … 4:00-5:00.” A fire truck would come out. Firefighters would hook a gadget to the hydrant and a sprinkler system would shoot out a high stream for big kids and a low stream for little ones.
About 50 kids would show up, and adults would pull out their lawn chairs and watch them frolic in the water. Firefighters passed out balloons and Popsicles, the Jacksons said.
“It's a pretty big thing around here,” said Sandy Jackson, who has a day care in her home. Despite her disappointment, she said the city seemed to have taken a reasonable step to diminish pressure on the stormwater system. “I guess I can understand that,” she said.
Pearson said children will still have a chance to cool off. Rec's Kids Clubhouse, the city's replacement for the Sun Dawgs program, is offering one day of free swimming per week at the city's community centers.
Ed Jackson joked that a summer without hydrant parties could produce more harm than benefit.
“I'll be crying,” he said. “There will be more water in the sewer because of my tears.”
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