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Russell gets new water source, looks to jettison ranch


RUSSELL -- The Russell City Council is on the verge of completing the leasing of two water rights not far from its existing Smoky Hill River well field that will offer significant relief to its struggling water supply situation.

The council also agreed Tuesday to hire an appraiser to determine the value of the community's share of the Circle K Ranch near Kinsley, according to Russell Councilman Chuck Bean. Circle K Ranch is owned jointly by the cities of Russell and Hays.

Russell owns an 18-percent interest in the nearly 7,000-acre Edwards County ranch, purchased in 1995 for $4.2 million. The city of Hays has an 82-percent ownership stake in the property, which has water rights amounting to almost 8,000 acre-feet.

Under the terms of the ownership agreement, Bean said, Hays would have the right of first refusal to purchase Russell's share in the ranch.

If Hays isn't interested, he said, the city could move ahead with trying to sell its ownership stake on the open market.

Money from the sale of its share of the ranch will be used to help pay for improvements in Russell's water pipeline along the Smoky Hill River as it presses west toward Cedar Bluff Reservoir.

That's part of the plan hatched by a committee formed by the Russell City Council to look at the idea of building a pipeline from Cedar Bluff -- where the city of Russell owns rights to 2,000 acre-feet of water -- to tie in to Russell's well field near Pfeifer.

The two water rights in the final stages of being leased would be the first step in building that pipeline to the west, Bean said.

"We found two large irrigation wells just west of our well field," he said of the city's wells. "Each one is capable of pumping over 300,000 gallons a day."

Contracts to lease the water from one landowner already have been signed, and Bean said contracts with the second landowners soon will be signed.

Russell's also talking with other water right holders in the area, and Bean is hopeful additional water can be leased.

One of the wells is only a mile west of Russell's Pfeifer wells, Bean said, while the second well is located another three-quarters of a mile west.

Together, they will be able to supply approximately 600,000 gallons of water each day.

That's about how much the city uses each day, except when temperatures skyrocket during the summer months.

"So it's a great find for the city of Russell," he said, and will go toward solving Russell's ongoing struggle to supply the city with adequate amounts of water.

The water won't be immediately available to the city, as they will have to extend the pipeline to the wells. One of the wells, the western-most well, will have to be worked over to meet the standards for wells supplying municipalities.

Together, the two wells will contribute approximately 170 acre-feet of water to the city's water supply.

Russell will pay handsomely for the water, approximately $1.50 per thousand gallons, plus a $10,000 annual payment for each well.

The cost of building the pipeline, Bean said, will be defrayed by proceeds from the sale of the ranch, augmented by the city's $17 million cash reserve.

How much the ranch will raise is uncertain, but he said recent similar sales have ranged from $4,200 an acre to $6,200 an acre.

"That's not including mineral rights," Bean said. "If nothing else, that was a fantastic investment years ago."

But Bean said the dissolution of the public wholesale water supply district doomed Russell's chances of getting any of that water.

Besides, he said, "Russell's needs are more immediate."

"This is going to be very, very helpful," Bean said of the new water rights, "rather than waiting five to seven years to wait for Cedar Bluff.

"We have water for the city this summer."