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City taking close look at conservation

8/6/2012

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Water conditions in the Hays area remain in relatively good shape, although the city is getting perilously close to reaching a threshold on Big Creek that could prompt a water watch.

That's not the case for the city's wellfield near Schoenchen along the Smoky Hill River. There, observation wells remain in good shape even though water levels in one have dropped nearly 1.5 feet since the end of May. A second observation well has dropped more than 2 feet in almost the same time period.

It's unlikely, said Hays City Manager Toby Dougherty, that a dramatic emergency will develop anytime soon, but he said well levels along Big Creek are close to the point where the city might ask residents to voluntarily cut back.

"We've cut back quite a bit on watering," he said of the city.

Depending on what's found, Dougherty said the city this week might urge conservation, beyond the restriction on watering in place now.

But he'd like to have some suggestions to make so residents will have some ideas on how to cut back.

"We're not as close on the Smoky wellfield," he said of the situation there. "I think that's testament to what we did a few years ago."

Hays reconfigured its wellfield on the Smoky several years ago, spacing out wells and relocating several. The idea was to drought-proof the wellfield as much as possible.

Hays also is participating with the city of Russell in its discussions concerning the possible release of water from Cedar Bluff Reservoir.

While Hays doesn't have any rights to water in the lake, Russell does, and there's a small amount of water held by the Kansas Water Office for artificial recharge of the river.

Any water released to benefit the Russell wellfield, however, will first have to pass through -- and replenish -- the Hays wellfield.

"They're in a tough position," Dougherty said of Russell calling for water releases even though there might not be enough water available to make it all the way downstream to Pfeifer where its wells are located.

Water use in Hays has spiked in the face of the drought.

"People are going above and beyond to try to keep their grass green," Dougherty said.

Normally, Hays will deliver approximately 2 million gallons of water a day to its residents.

This summer, there have been some 3 million gallon days and even a few surpassing that level.