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Russell residents talk water-conservation efforts

9/28/2012

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

RUSSELL -- It wouldn't take much to save nearly 50 million gallons of water, a retired environmental consultant told Russell residents -- 100 days worth of residential use in the city.

But his message didn't get far, with only 15 Russell residents in the audience for Wednesday's public meeting on water conservation.

But Jim New, who grew up in Russell and returned after a successful career as an environmental consultant, isn't about to give up, ready to take his push for conservation before local clubs and schools.

Wednesday's meeting was the first public meeting after he approached the Russell City Council, whose members suggested the city would like to see conservation efforts developed by residents.

Three members of the nine-member Russell City Council -- Dave Harry, Norma Jean Cook and Chuck Bean -- were at the meeting. Russell Police Chief Jon Quinday, who will become interim city manager next week, also attended.

"There is nothing new that we're going to describe here tonight," New said at the outset of the meeting. "Somewhere in America, everything that we can do has been tried."

Still, New said the results would be dramatic.

He even pointed to his own residence, built in 1976, as an example of someplace where conservation can take place.

"It's a nice house," New said. "And it's not an old house. But it's got a lot of water burners in it."

Low-flow shower heads and toilets, he said, would save more than 20 million gallons annually. Water-efficient washing machines would save another 10.8 million gallons, and rain barrels would save nearly that much.

Simple steps, he said, could save nearly 50 million gallons a year -- 100 days worth of total residential and commercial water use.

At current rates, that would mean water savings of nearly $265,000, or individual savings of more than $175 a year.

Much of Russell's water use is tied to industrial uses, notably the White Energy ethanol plant at the northeast edge of town.

Average water use in Russell has been increasing in recent years, up from a low of 107 gallons per person per day in 2007 to 166 gallons in 2010, according to the Division of Water Resources. That's 30 gallons higher than the average for the region.

Hays residents used 91 gallons per person in 2010, while Salina's use was 116 gallons.

Residents attending the meeting were enthusiastic, even detailing some of the conservation steps they've taken, including the use of rain barrels.

New said he uses six barrels, able to fill them with a single rainfall of just 0.22 of an inch.

That amount of rain fell 21 times in Russell last year during April through November, the time period when outside water use is at its greatest.

Nearly 35,000 gallons of water came off the roof of his 1,500-square-foot home, he said.

Watershed specialist Stacie Minson encouraged the use of rain barrels but said they're becoming more difficult to obtain.

"Education, in my opinion, is the key to most things we want to do," New said.