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Water the talk of the town this week

3/9/2014

By MIKE CORN

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

The city of Hays has scheduled a town hall meeting for 7 p.m. Wednesday to talk about water.

Specifically, the city plans to talk about the status of the current drought, the recent declaration by the Hays City Commission to move into a water warning and the decision to pursue development of water rights in the R9 Ranch in Edwards County.

It's the second water meeting of the week.

The first will be at 10 a.m. Monday in Sternberg Museum of Natural History to talk about the state's need to develop a 50-year vision on water supplies in Kansas.

Monday's meeting will be conducted by the Kansas Water Office and Department of Agriculture, looking for comments on where residents think the state needs to be in 50 years, at least in terms of its water.

The city's decision to develop the R9 Ranch, located south of Kinsley, strikes a similar chord, looking to the long term.

It's likely, Hays City Manager Toby Dougherty said, the ranch development process will be lengthy.

Hays City commissioners two weeks ago approved an ordinance essentially declaring the nearly 7,000 acre ranch as the "most viable, long-term water solution for the city of Hays."

The ranch, situated along the Arkansas River in Edwards County, has rights to nearly 8,000 acre-feet of water.

It's unlikely, however, the city will be able to tap into that much water, and Dougherty said it's more likely the amount will be closer to 5,300 acre feet once the consumptive use is calculated.

By signing the ordinance, it also set in motion a series of actions that will be required to change the point of use and diversion for the water.

That will trigger the state's water transfer act, a never-before-used law that kicks in when someone proposes to move more than 2,000 acre feet of water more than 35 miles from its where it's pumped.

The project could cost as much as $65 million, but it is designed to alleviate the city's vulnerability to drought.

It's an ongoing drought that's responsible for the city's decision Thursday a water warning.

The move is being described as preemptive, and Dougherty said he's hoping that prevents possible problems for people planning to put in lawns or big gardens -- only to face restrictions on outside water use when the restrictions automatically kick in as levels in water wells along either the Smoky Hill River near Schoenchen or Big Creek wells in and around the city of Hays fall to specific depths.

Dougherty projected those triggers might be met in mid- to late summer, likely first in the Smoky Hill River.

The Hays town hall meeting is planned for 7 p.m. Wednesday in the lobby of Sternberg. The state's water vision meeting is set for 10 a.m. Monday, also in the lobby.