Purchase photos

Officials suggest Cedar Bluff water

4/16/2014

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

RUSSELL -- City Council members here had plenty of questions Tuesday about Hays' decision to go after the R9 Ranch as a long-term source of water.

Members of the Russell City Council also wanted to float the idea of a partnership between Hays and Russell to build a pipeline to tap into Russell's supply of water in Cedar Bluff Reservoir as an answer to short-term problems.

"We have 2,000 acre feet of water in Cedar Bluff, and I haven't given up on that," Russell Councilman Chuck Bean said.

"As far as Cedar Bluff, I have no problem talking to Jon about that," Hays City Manager Toby Dougherty said of talking with Russell City Manager Jon Quinday. "Anything beyond that, I need to go to my governing body."

The discussion certainly wouldn't come as a surprise, as three Hays City Commission members -- Kent Steward, Ron Mellick and Shaun Musil -- were sitting in council chambers, as was Hays City Attorney John Bird.

The appearance by members of the Hays City Commission before the Russell council is an outgrowth of a request for a letter of support from Russell concerning Hays' decision to look to R9 Ranch in Edwards County as a long-term source of water for the city. Already, La Crosse and Ellis have signed similar letters.

But as the owner of 18 percent of the ranch, Russell council members had questions and invited Hays delegates to their meeting.

There, Dougherty answered a series of questions and summarized steps already taken or yet to be taken by Hays.

Dougherty also laid out the scenario should Russell ultimately decide it wants some of the water from the ranch. Those details will be laid in a more formal fashion, Bird said.

Dougherty said he thinks Russell ultimately might tap into approximately a third of the water pumped north from the Kinsley-area ranch.

But first, there's much that needs to be done, and Dougherty said it won't be cheap.

Bean asked about the timetable, how long it might take realistically to wade through all the regulatory barriers and start pumping water.

"If we could do it tomorrow, we would do it," Bird said. "We think the process itself could be five to 10 years, depending on what develops."

It remains to be seen if objections are raised in addition to the routine regulatory process.

"We're assuming the worst and hoping for the best," Bird said. "We have learned over the years that somebody will want to fight it."

Who and for what reason remains uncertain. And the limiting factor might be money, given the high cost of taking an issue to court.

"We don't know where it will come from," he said of the opposition. "Someone will oppose us."

Doughtery said he's already heard negative feedback from residents near the ranch.

"I think a lot of people thought this was inevitable," he said.

Dougherty also said Hays is working on a plan to take the ranch in a "different direction," away from traditional ranching activities to those of farming the ranch to best serve "quality and quantity" of water.

Bean wanted to know if it might take as long as 15 years to get water flowing from the ranch.

"I think anything outside of 10 years, we are seeing a problem."

Bean was focusing on using water from Cedar Bluff as a solution to immediate shortages.

Dougherty voiced concern about Cedar Bluff's sustainability. He also voiced concern about the money it might take, much of which would help pay for the R9 Ranch development.

Fellow Councilman Jason Long agreed with Bean about the need for a short-term solution.

"It's available," he said of Cedar Bluff. "It's there. It's ours. Let's go get it."

"You guys got the money," Bean said of Hays. "We've got the water. It could be a solution."

Building a pipeline from Cedar Bluff to Russell's Pfeifer wellfield would cost approximately $20 million.