The city of Hays might have moved back from water warning to water watch stage, but nobody should think conservation efforts can cease. Far from it.
We remain in a drought. We also remain in the only county with a population greater than 15,000 west of U.S. Highway 81 that doesn't sit on a large underground aquifer. We remain dependent on alluvial aquifers for our water, which are not substantial enough for our long-term supply and are subject to depletion even in the short term.
Thank goodness for the rains of the past six weeks.
City staff has been watching anxiously the readings provided by its Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition system in place at all the Smoky, Dakota and Big Creek alluvium wells since the rains began. Measurements in all the city wells are critical, as they can trigger movement from one phase of the drought response plan to another. In late February, the city commission approved moving pre-emptively from the Stage 1 watch to Stage 2 warning as projected water levels at that time indicated the short-term fresh water supply would be worsening by mid-summer. The same unscientific projections suggested Stage 3 emergency would have been reached in 2015.
And then came the rains.
The readings actually support removing even the water watch phase, something neither staff nor the commission were ready to entertain last week.
"We by no means think the drought is anywhere near over, but our triggers say we should not be in water warning," said City Manager Toby Dougherty.
In fact, two of the commissioners at Thursday night's meeting didn't want to revert to water watch. Both Shaun Musil and Kent Steward voted against the measure because of public opinion. Musil had residents tell him they'd support staying in the warning stage while Steward expressed concern people might believe the drought was ending.
Both positions were logical, yet we are glad the majority downgraded the city's status. We must keep in mind the conditions that trigger any stage of the drought response plan: The capacity the city can maintain in underground storage reservoirs, the levels of city wells, and the sheer amount of daily water use. The triggers are specific and appropriate -- and should be observed in both directions.
Residents are advised many restrictions are in effect with the water watch stage (reference the public notice in Monday's Hays Daily News for a complete list). Many other restrictions and conservation measures governed by ordinance unrelated to the drought still will be enforced. Voluntary conservation efforts still are encouraged.
And the process of securing a long-term water source for the city will continue. The R9 Ranch will be needed as current sources eventually will dry up -- unless the past month's rains become the new norm. We doubt that will happen.
Keep up the solid conservation efforts and habits. They have helped until now and will continue to moving forward.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry