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Heavy snow halts water release

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Monday's release of water from Cedar Bluff Reservoir didn't go as planned, ironically the victim of recent heavy snow and the cold temperatures that accompanied it.

But the delay isn't because of the moisture brought by the snow, rather the obstacles it and the cold might have on the water making a quick trip down the Smoky Hill River to the Hays wellfield near Schoenchen.

The decision to delay the release was made late last week by Kansas Water Office Director Tracy Streeter.

"The potential for snow accumulations in the river channel to obstruct downstream flows is the primary reason for the postponed release," Streeter said in a statement. "We will monitor the weather and forecasted increase in temperature next week to determine the effect the snow melt had on downstream recharge."

Hays City Manager Toby Dougherty, who made the original Dec. 13 request for the water from the reservoir, isn't concerned about the delay.

He originally had asked for the release to be made prior to March 1, hoping to beat the greening up and subsequent water use of trees and vegetation along the river.

The plan is to release all of the water left in what's known as an artificial recharge pool in Cedar Bluff. Because the lake is nearly 20 feet low, the result of high evaporation rates and little inflow, there's only 1,247 acre-feet of water -- 406 million gallons -- left in that pool.

The city of Russell, which owns rights to 2,000 acre-feet of water, plans to sit out this release, wanting instead to watch and see how the release goes.

Russell also has been working to pick up additional water from other sources.

Dougherty said he agreed to hold off in part because releases in December 2005 were slowed because of ice dams in the river, the result of cold weather.

While Cedar Bluff supporter Bill Scott applauded the delay, he knows it won't stop it.

He did, however, send out an email to participants in a tour of the river nearly two weeks ago, suggesting it was best to delay the release to see what relief the snow might give to parched water supplies.

"The snow is going to have some recharge value," Scott said. "How much, I don't know."

Dougherty, however, suggested the snow, containing slightly more than an inch of moisture, would have minimal effect.

Scott also voiced concern about delaying the release too long because of the danger of walleye -- soon to be spawning along the face of the dam -- being flushed downstream with the water.

"We're right on top of that," he said of the spawning season

While the water office is expected to review conditions this week before rescheduling the release, Dougherty said it could be as early as Monday.

That will be soon enough.

"Quite frankly, if we had the weather we experienced three weeks ago, I would be nervous," he said.