Published on -9/2/2012, 5:18 PM
Despite exceptional drought and high temperatures, the city of Russell is turning a cold shoulder to its neighbors in Hays. More accurately, it's likely the drought itself that has turned usually frosty relations even colder of late.
And it's all because of Big Creek's little output.
Nothing is flowing down Big Creek, rendering Russell's wells on the body useless as a source for water. Instead, Russell is relying solely on the Smoky Hill River to generate the city's daily required 800,000 gallons. Even the Smoky wellfield has deteriorated, which has the Russell County seat looking at imposing more stringent use limits, requesting industry to cut back, and discussing a possible release of water from Cedar Bluff Reservoir.
"We're struggling to keep up with demand," said Russell City Manager Ralph Wise recently.
There is no shortage of fingers pointing upstream, however. Russell officials have lamented if only Hays would stop watering its ballfields, golf course and the new sportsplex, enough water could be returned to Big Creek to alleviate Russell's crisis.
"There's always somebody downstream during a drought that thinks there's somebody upstream causing a problem," said Hays City Manager Toby Dougherty.
Unfortunately for Dougherty and other city officials, there is nobody upstream to blame for the dried-up Big Creek west of Hays. Nothing has been flowing into the city since June. That's what happens during a drought. We would think Russell officials would believe -- and expect -- the same.
Apparently they don't. Or perhaps they simply find it easier to discuss how Hays uses its daily 1.8 million gallons of water.
We would suggest that before Russell attempts to skip any more stones upstream, it should more closely examine its own usage. Despite having only a quarter of the population that Hays does, it basically uses about half the water Hays does. In other words, Russell uses twice as much water per capita as Hays.
We fully understand the water demand needed by the White Energy ethanol plant. Even with improved efficiency and a reliance on milo and wheat instead of corn, the plant uses close to 500,000 gallons of water daily. White Energy provides both jobs and economic development in Russell, at a very steep price.
Additionally, Russell does not employ the same kind of mandatory water-conservation practices as its neighbor to the west. Limits on shower head sizes and the amount of toilet flush releases, outright bans on outdoor watering during certain hours of the day for six months out of the year, and pricing models that encourage decreased amounts per household long have been common in Hays. The city's wastewater treatment plant also doesn't have standing lagoons that are lessened via evaporation.
Of course, not many communities have enacted such strict yet sensible ordinances. That's why Hays remains a model of efficiency not just in the state but the entire region.
That the city can sustain green grass on its fairways and ballfields while still conserving water should be applauded, not derided.
And it's not as if Hays doesn't release water back into Big Creek. The city conforms with all applicable Kansas Water Office regulations. Hays simply opts to release most of it during colder months, not only when the city's own needs are lower but when the water has a better chance of making it past demanding trees and shrubs lining the creek -- and thus actually recharging wellfields.
Still, there likely is room for improved communication and coordination between the two cities. We would encourage just that.
But we also would remind Russell officials that the entire region is water-poor. Also, Hays should not be blamed for the drought, for the fact ethanol plants require so much water, nor for Russell's reluctance to establish more stringent conservation practices.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry