In response to this summer's drought and the accompanying strain on water resources, a few weeks ago Russell City Councilman Larry Daugherty attempted to push the city to its most-restrictive conservation mode.
"I think we ought to go to stage 4 now," Daugherty proposed.
His motion died for lack of a second, which prompted a sarcastic response: "Obviously, we've got all kinds of water."
It's not that the other officials believed Russell wasn't suffering a water shortage. Everybody in town is aware of that fact. But the council appeared more interested in pointing fingers upstream at Hays and its lack of discharge to help replenish Russell's wells on Big Creek. The animosity did not result in water magically appearing, but it did put a further strain on relations between the neighbors.
That strain resulted in Russell turning down a request to join Hays in a study to determine if dams along the Smoky Hill River might help recharge wells. Last week, Hays returned the favor by pulling out of the Wholesale Water Supply District No. 15. The joint venture between the two cities was formed in 1996 to pursue long-term water supply issues.
"(They) think that we're taking advantage of them, which I do not believe that we are," said Hays Commissioner Ron Mellick. "But when you have a partnership and one partner is not happy, then the best thing to do is dissolve that partnership."
"Russell has been standing in big brother's shadow," said Russell Councilman Chuck Bean. "I honestly think we're capable of standing on our own, and I feel here, we need to do our own thing."
And so, that's what Russell plans to do. While we believe better results are possible by Russell and Hays working together, we give Russell credit for taking a stand. It should at least take Hays off the hook as convenient scapegoat moving forward.
In order to be successful, the Russell City Council will need to show this same level of resolve with its own residents.
When rejecting the stage 4 recommendation in August, most of the council appeared reluctant to force stringent conservation measures within the city limits even though Russell's per-capita water usage is 30 gallons higher than the region's average. Instead, members wanted residents to develop a plan.
Enter Jim New. The retired environmental consultant who lives in Russell brought common-sense measures to the council that could save 50 million gallons of water annually.
By installing low-flow toilets and shower heads, using efficient washing machines and dishwashers, utilizing rain barrels, and other proven tactics, the city could significantly reduce its average use of 166 gallons per person per day.
Whether elected officials ever believed they would receive one, the city council now has a resident-developed plan. The next step is implementation and most of the short-term issues go away.
Long-term supply requires a bigger solution. And the council already knows the answer: Building a pipeline from Cedar Bluff Reservoir directly to Russell's wells either on the Smoky Hill River or Big Creek. The pipeline will cost in excess of $20 million, but it would bring approximately 2,000 acre-feet of water Russell already owns without losing any to vegetation lining the riverbed -- or to Hays, which benefits from every release Russell currently calls for. In fact, we believe Russell doesn't call for releases more often because Hays' wellfields get recharged every time.
Russell reportedly has substantial cash reserves to pay for most of the pipeline right now. If the council doesn't care to diminish that nestegg too much, two options come to mind.
The first is selling Russell's stake in the Circle K Ranch in Edwards County. Hays basically has a standing offer to do just that.
The second would be to invite Hays to share the cost of the pipeline in exchange for a share of the 2,000 acre feet. Even if the two cities can't get along well enough to have productive meetings or effective committees, surely they could see eye to eye long enough to make a business transaction of such magnitude.
The city of Russell shouldn't need to be in crisis mode. Solutions are identified and available.
All that's needed is a city council with the will to enforce regular conservation methods, and the fortitude to work with its neighbor to the west.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry