Water nears Schoenchen wells
By MIKE CORN
There's been a steady stream of vehicles crossing bridges spanning the Smoky Hill River in southern Ellis County this week.
Many slowed to a crawl as they approached, some pulling over and walking out onto the bridge, looking over the edge to see if or how much water had arrived from Cedar Bluff Reservoir.
Hays City Manager Toby Dougherty was among them, stopping off at two bridges Friday afternoon, remaining hopeful the water might reach the Hays wellfield either Friday night or sometime Saturday.
The water didn't quite make it to the western edge of Schoenchen on Friday, but it wasn't far from it Saturday morning, and still flowing nearly a foot deep through the U.S. Geological Survey gaging station less than a mile west of Schoenchen.
Dougherty was happy with the progress of the water, first released Monday into the irrigation canal below the Cedar Bluff dam. He's crediting the snow and a sharply higher release rate for helping send the water cascading downstream.
"It actually made quite a bit of progress in four days," he said of the water, first released Monday morning.
Releases took considerably longer to reach the Hays wellfield in 2005 and again in 2006.
Dougherty said the 2005 release took 14 days to reach the wellfield, and another four days to pass through it. But that release was slow, at just 50 cubic feet per second -- 4.3 million gallons a day.
That's why the release started out at 250 cubic feet per second, racheting down to 50 cfs on the third day. Releases are expected to be halted this morning.
Dougherty's still holding out hope anywhere from 400 to 800 acre-feet of water -- out of the 1,247 acre-feet released from Cedar Bluff -- will make its way to the Schoenchen well field.
Water for the release comes from an artificial recharge pool maintained by the Kansas Water Office, a pool created when the irrigation district disbanded and water rights were purchased by the state. Because the lake is nearly 20 feet low, the pool contains only 1,247 acre-feet.
The water release has added to the decline, dropping water levels in the lake by slightly more than 4 inches as of Friday.
In anticipation of the water arriving, all but the eastern-most wells will be turned off.
That's going to give Hays and other water officials the opportunity to see just how much recharge the wellfield is getting from the Cedar Bluff water.
"To me, it's important to get an accurate accounting of the benefit," he said.
While the progress has been relatively rapid, sometimes moving as much as 3 miles a day, Dougherty is certain the flow will become imperceptibly slow when it hits the wellfield.
While the water is flowing, the city will rely on water from two wells along the Smoky and from its battery of Big Creek wells.
Water use currently is at its lowest, somewhere between 1.6 and 1.8 million gallons a day.
Without the snowmelt, he said, water use probably would be on the increase as residents start watering lawns.