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Hays asking for water release

By DAWNE LEIKER

dleiker@dailynews.net

Hays City Manager Toby Dougherty updated commissioners on the status of Hays' water issues during Thursday's Hays City Commission meeting at city hall.

A letter requesting the release of water from the artificial recharge pool at Cedar Bluff will be sent to the state of Kansas Water Office on Saturday, Dougherty said. Having met last spring the triggers necessary to request a release, he said the city had delayed the request for two reasons. One, because trees, now in dormancy, would not be absorbing the water as it comes downstream. And two, the request had been delayed until it was "absolutely necessary."

Acknowledging the community is among many Kansas communities experiencing a long-term drought, Dougherty said city staff is working to find innovative ways to address Hays' water issues.

Average annual precipitation for Hays is 22.75 inches. Last year's precipitation finished with a 3-inch deficit. This year, precipitation to date totals 13.6 inches, a 9-inch deficit.

"To be classified as a desert, an area has to receive 10 inches or less of rain," Dougherty said. "We're an arid region to start with.

"We're borderline desert with these rainfalls."

New conservation measures are in the works for the city, Dougherty said. An upgrade to the city's low-flow shower head giveaway program, implemented in the 1990s, already has been made.

Old low-flow shower heads, with a 2.5 gallon per minute output, formerly distributed by the city, can be replaced by the city with a 1.3 gallon per minute fixture.

"So I'm encouraging anyone to bring in their old shower head," Dougherty said. "We'll give you a new one of these."

"And that will at least save you a gallon a minute," Dougherty said.

In addition, city staff is exploring other options for low-flow shower heads, which include more aesthetically pleasing models. Although those fixtures might not be distributed free of charge, a discount possibly could be offered.

"We are looking at not only upgrading what we're giving away, but we're revamping the whole shower head giveaway program," Dougherty said. "If we're going to give a shower head away, we want the shower head to be used."

Central to new water conservation measures, Dougherty said, is changing the focus from conservation to efficiency.

"We need to start talking about efficiency because too many people equate conservation with austerity, and I don't want that," he said. "So from now on, it's going to be our water efficiency programs.

"I know it's semantics, but I think to a lot of people it can be a big deal and a negative association."

Other conservation measures the city is considering include:

* Updating the city's building code to bring it into compliance in regard to water-efficient fixtures.

* Implementing third-tier conservation rates which would differentiate between warm season grasses and cool season grasses.

* Landscaping requirements for new residential and commercial properties that would involve mandatory best management practices. Plants for landscaping new construction projects could be selected from a list of environmentally tolerant varieties.

* Revamping educational programs and newly seeded lawn permit requirements.

"We can accomplish all this, but we need to educate," Dougherty said. "We need to advocate.

"We need to show people clearly what the expected outcomes are of everything we do. We need to show them the benefit to them personally and the community as a whole, and we need to assist along the way."

* * *

In other business, commissioners:

* Approved a pre-annexation agreement for water services for 3232 E. 27th.

* Approved an extension of the current pro-shop management contract with Richard Guffey for a four-year period.