Purchase photos

Water search moves forward with study

8/3/2012

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

After shelving a study on using Lake Wilson as a source of water for Hays and Russell, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has extended something of an olive branch to help study the possibility of drought-proofing wellfields for the two cities.

It wasn't needed, but members of the Public Wholesale Water Supply District No. 15 board voted Wednesday to endorse a $100,000 study to see if water retention dams along the Smoky Hill River -- near Schoenchen and Pfeifer where Hays and Russell gather water -- would recharge wellfields and perhaps help drought-proof the two systems.

The water district -- made up of representatives from Hays and Russell -- also went behind closed doors again to talk about the possibility of purchasing another source of water. They've done that during the past several months, reviewing a series of options.

No action was taken by the board, although Hays City Manager Toby Dougherty said Thursday it appears the group is closer to making a decision. He said a recommendation from the group to the cities of Hays and Russell could come when the board meets again in about two months.

As for the retention study, the Corps agreed to cover half of the cost. The Kansas Water Office will cover $25,000, leaving Hays and Russell to split the remaining cost.

Dougherty agreed it is something of an olive branch, made with the help of the state water office, which has a memorandum of understanding with Hays and Russell to help explore ways to improve water supply.

The Corps had initiated a water supply study several years ago to determine how much water might be available from Lake Wilson. But as federal budget issues developed, the Corps backed away from that study, officially shelving the entire project save for a still-under-review summary of what already has been done.

Russell City Manager Ralph Wise unveiled the offer from the Corps.

"This is an item that came up about a year ago," he said.

Now, Wise said, the state and the Corps want an answer on interest from Hays and Russell by Thursday.

The five board members attending voted in favor of urging Hays and Russell to take advantage of the offer.

"I'm not opposed to doing anything to help our water supply," said District Chairman Joe Glassman.

Dougherty told the group he thinks the cities could get some assistance from either the state or federal government to build the dams if the engineering study finds they would be beneficial.

The idea of building dams has been looked at -- and discounted -- in the past.

Dougherty thinks it might be beneficial now because the technology is available to look at how much additional water it might let the aquifer absorb.

"They can actually quantify it," Dougherty said of the Burns and McDonnell engineering study being proposed.