Published on -6/19/2013, 9:40 AM
We in Ellis County need to get serious about water issues. Private wells are going dry all over the county. The pictures related to lack of water in Cedar Bluff Reservoir and the dryness of the Smoky Hill River and Big Creek are not only sad, but ominous as well.
Hays and Ellis County elected officials need to chart a prudent course that is sustainable. As residents we all need to determine that we are using our valuable water efficiently and judiciously. When our ancestors arrived here they soon learned the value of water. They conserved water. We need to regain that same appreciation for water if we haven't already.
We live in an ecosystem. There is (in the end) only so much water here. Many parts of rural Ellis County are already supplied with water from wells in Trego County (Ogallala Aquifer). Other attempts to have water "piped" in from ecosystems outside our area have failed to date, and I would suggest are not the way to go.
We here in Ellis County need to learn from and work with our friends and neighbors in Russell and other surrounding counties. Russell has "leased" two wells from area farmers. This makes perfect sense. Water previously used for agricultural purposes can now be used for municipal purposes. The farmers were compensated for their loss of productivity. This is as it should be.
The city of Hays has that exact same scenario. It is time to enter into mutually satisfactory agreements between farmers irrigating out of the Smoky Hill alluvium to the west of the Hays city well field. I do not have the statistics for how much water is drawn from these irrigation wells, but I do know any water that was would now be potentially available for domestic usage.
That is the initial step I believe that needs to be taken. Then we need to admit that the city of Russell was very wise when they purchased water from Cedar Bluff. It will rain again someday, and this lake will refill. When that will happen is anybody's guess -- it may be a long time. I farmed in the Cedar Bluff irrigation district. The district was all but abandoned in the late '70s when it was apparent the water supply from Cedar Bluff could not supply the district. After the district disbanded, the lake then refilled in the early '90s.
Yet lots of valuable water is lost when releasing this water and allowing it to naturally flow down the riverbed to the Russell well field. At the same time, the city of Hays well field is recharged every time Russell calls for a release. Ellis County and especially the city of Hays receive a benefit. It is time to acknowledge our good friends and neighbors to the east and partner with them to build a pipeline from Cedar Bluff, with the water to be released at a mutually agreed upon point. I don't know how much water can potentially be saved for the Hays and Russell well fields, but I would guess it could be substantial. I don't have any idea how much a pipeline would cost either. Would it be worth it? Just depends on how valuable water is. It also takes faith to believe our good Lord will supply the rain needed for this great resource (Cedar Bluff).
The third and final step (and maybe the one with the most potential benefits) is to seek ways to partner with Ellis, Russell and Trego County landowners to build dams and ponds. These dams and ponds would hold the rain when it falls and would be used to recharge our precious underground water resources. Partnering with federal resources and expertise could also help in this area.
Bottom line: A workable solution to Hays and Ellis County's long-term water needs will only be forged by working together with our friends and neighbors. There is enough water for everyone. Let common sense prevail. God will provide for his people who trust in him.
Lawrence J. Reichert