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Drought behind Big Creek

8/28/2012

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Hays City Manager Toby Dougherty has been under fire for drying up Big Creek.

He blames the drought, not the city of Hays' decision to withhold the release into Big Creek of as much water as possible from the city's wastewater treatment plant.

"We only have the capacity to produce 1.8 million gallons," he said of the city's wastewater treatment plant capacity. "So we could release all of that, and it wouldn't make a difference."

That difference, he said, rests with the water demands from trees and shrubs that line Big Creek from the city's plant on East Old U.S. Highway 40 to the east Ellis County line.

He said the estimated demand from vegetation lining the creek amounts to approximately 12 million gallons a day.

Hays and Dougherty, as the city manager, have been criticized for holding on to much of the water it treats rather than allowing water to flow downstream.

Farmers and ranchers downstream of Hays have complained about no streamflow, and the Russell City Council last week complained about Hays not releasing water into Big Creek.

For much of the year, Russell hasn't been able to use its Big Creek wells, forcing it to rely instead on its Smoky wells.

Doughtery said Hays has been holding on to all but approximately 500,000 gallons of the 1.8 million gallons it produces each day, using it on ballfields, Fort Hays Municipal Golf Course and the sports complex.

As conditions soured this summer -- Big Creek's last flow upstream of Hays was in early June -- Hays started cutting back on its watering regimen, he said, and returning more water to Big Creek.

Glassman and Stramel ball fields are watered on a limited basis, and a third of the sprinkler heads at the golf course now are shut off. Watering has been cut back at the sports complex.

"We have the legal right to use our water the way we want to," Dougherty said. "And we do."

But so does Russell, he said, citing the use of water at the ethanol plant and allowing water to evaporate from lagoons used to treat wastewater.

"But I don't criticize them for it," he said.