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Questions more plentiful than water

4/22/2014

By MIKE CORN

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

ASSARIA -- Too many questions and not enough time nor money to answer them all.

That's the divining message passed along Monday to members of the committee formed to look at the idea of siphoning excess water from the Missouri River and moving it west to a reservoir in the Utica area.

Even the volunteer time offered by members of the aqueduct committee is being counted as in-kind contributions to the overall $300,000 being spent to take a new look at a 1982 Corps of Engineers study to see just how much water might be available and how much it would cost to move it west.

Along the way Monday, committee members from northeast, northwest, southwest and even south-central Kansas raised a myriad of questions about the water's destination.

Even though the aqueduct would end in the Utica area before being parceled out, perhaps to replenish the Ogallala Aquifer, no one from Ness County was on the committee.

Even with a broad range of questions raised Monday, most simply won't be answered because there's a tight schedule, effectively January in time to present findings to the 2015 Kansas Legislature.

Joe Pajor, Wichita's deputy director of public works, said it comes down to figuring out what the committee wants.

Kansas Water Office director Tracy Streeter said the 1982 study is the underlying focus.

Monday's meeting offered a first glimpse to many of the committee members of the scope of the 1982 study, which looked at pulling water in excess of navigation needs from the Missouri.

The idea already has set off something of a firestorm in Missouri, and along the Mississippi, where navigation reigns supreme.

A representative of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources attended the meeting but didn't join the discussion.

Streeter said the 1982 study didn't look at any of the environmental barriers that might be posed by moving water west.

"They just presumed it was going to be easy-peasy," he said.

The environmental issues didn't get mentioned much, except for how water might affect efforts to boost pallid sturgeon numbers in the Missouri.

HDR Engineer John Denlinger, hired to update the project, highlighted some of the 1982 study proposed:

* A 360-mile aqueduct, using 16 pumping stations to push the water to an area that is nearly 1,745 feet higher in elevation.

* The reservoir used to store water as it's pulled from the river and then slowly released into the concrete aqueduct would be capable of holding 700,000 acre feet of water.

* The Utica reservoir was expected to hold anywhere from 760,000 to 1.6 million acre feet of water.

"Again, we will be looking at different sizes and alternatives there," Denlinger said.

Aqueduct proponent Mark Rude, executive director of the Southwest Kansas Groundwater Management District, raised the issue of as much as 90 miles between pumping stations on the aqueduct.

"It would be a lazy river," he said

In the Flint Hills, Rude said, economic development groups are looking at the aqueduct for recreational uses.

Streeter said there's been a lot of talk about concerns from Missouri or from Mississippi navigation forces.

"I'm maybe a little more interested in what we Kansans accept," he said. "We're just trying to evaluate our options."