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Ellis City Council elevates conservation policy

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

ELLIS -- The Ellis City Council banned private well users within the city from using that water for any purpose in a special meeting Monday night at city hall.

The town council, after receiving a letter from the Kansas Department of Agriculture, Division of Water Resources earlier in the day, elevated the city's water conservation policy to its highest level, at Stage 3.

The state gave the city the authority to shut down the wells, said Mayor David McDaniel.

"We are now regulating private wells within the city limits of Ellis, Kansas," McDaniel said after Monday's two-hour meeting. "They will be under the Stage 3 water restrictions that are in effect at this point, which means no outside watering, period."

Those who have wells for commercial business purposes, such as a car wash, landscaping or a nursery, would be exempt from the new restriction, McDaniel said.

The city and private well users get their water from the same source, Big Creek alluvium, McDaniel said, who added the council delayed making this decision as long as possible.

"The council has put off going to Stage 3 for nine months or more," McDaniel said. "They did not want to have to go to this."

The council tried less restrictive Stage 1 and Stage 2 water conservation policies first.

"Up to this point, the private water wells were able to water at any hour, day or night," McDaniel said. "We asked them not to water, between noon and (7 p.m.) in Stage 2, but we had no control over them."

McDaniel was unsure how many private wells within the city would be affected by the new restrictions but said the number was "substantial."

"We discussed fines," Monday night, McDaniel said. "We discussed penalty information, all different kinds of things. We still have discussions going on."

The council also heard from approximately 10 people in the audience at Monday's meeting.

"If (Ellis citizens) work with us on the situation, if the council continues to make good, positive decisions like they've been making, I think we'll be fine," McDaniel said.

In the city's water conservation plan, which was approved by the state in November 2008, there are four triggers that needed to occur before the city could go to Stage 3 water restrictions. McDaniel said those triggers were water well levels less than 70 percent capacity; demand for one day in excess of 400,000 gallons; Big Creek bed dry within the city limits; and the governor declaring a drought emergency. McDaniel said all four criteria were met last summer.

McDaniel said state officials told him water wells west of the city were drying up, and Ellis "was targeted by the state of Kansas as a red-alert area."

"The arrow points to Ellis," he said. "We're next."

At this point, the city has enough water, McDaniel said.

"Our wells are stable at the present time," he said. "They have dropped, but they're stable. We still have plenty of water yet.

"But it's still in the winter usage time. We haven't gotten to the summer yet."

McDaniel said he has been told drought conditions will persist for another two years.

"I think it needs to be stressed this isn't a thing that's going to go away overnight," McDaniel said. "We're going to have to keep at this.

"The council, and the citizens and everybody in this community are going to have to work together to make this thing work."

The city sent the state two letters requesting authority to shut down the private wells within the city limits. The city received an answer Monday, granting that authority, effective immediately, lasting through Dec. 31.

In a special meeting Wednesday, the town council approved a resolution allowing the golf course to use effluent water from the sewer plant to water its grass. The golf course is not allowed to use the water between noon and 7 p.m.