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Russell steps up conservation plan




RUSSELL -- It's beginning to look a lot like August, at least as far as Russell's water supply situation is concerned.

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RUSSELL -- It's beginning to look a lot like August, at least as far as Russell's water supply situation is concerned.

Yet it's only early July.

That's why the Russell City Council on Friday met in special session to talk water, ultimately approving a resolution moving the city into Stage 3 water conservation -- a step away from its most restrictive stage.

The resolution effectively bans outside watering of gardens, lawns, trees and playing fields except for one day a week -- coinciding with an individual property's trash pickup day.

And even then, watering only is allowed before 10 a.m. and after 9 p.m., according to Russell City Manager Ralph Wise.

That's the stage Russell entered in 2006 when it called for the release of water from Cedar Bluff Reservoir, where it has the rights to 2,000 acre-feet of water.

"That's always on the table," Wise said of calling for a release of water from Cedar Bluff.

That possibility hasn't been discussed yet, but Wise has a call in to the Kansas Water Office to talk about the possibility.

In the meantime, outside watering of parks or filling and refilling residential swimming pools is prohibited and washing of motor vehicles and boats no longer is allowed.

Industrial users also are being asked to reduce water use to 75 percent of average monthly consumption, something occupants of the industrial park are undertaking, Wise said.

White Energy, the city's ethanol plant and Russell's largest water user, has the ability to purchase water from Post Rock Rural Water District, he said.

During the past several days, Russell has been pumping nearly 875,000 gallons of water from its water plant.

"When the weather got really, really hot, we had a million-gallon day," Wise said. "That's one of our triggers."

He also pointed to Gov. Sam Brownback's recent drought declaration, which assigns nearly all of northwest Kansas -- including Russell and Ellis counties -- as being in a drought emergency.

Russell now is down to a single source of water, as water from Big Creek is effectively nonexistent.

The city's water plant is running 24 hours a day, up from the normal of two eight-hour shifts.

"We're struggling to keep up with demand," he said, primarily because Russell only can get water from wells along the Smoky Hill River near Pfeifer.

Wells there, Wise said, are pretty low and continuing to decline.

"They're not as bad as they were in 2006," he said.

That's when the city of Russell teamed up with the Kansas Water Office to call for a release of nearly 3,000 acre-feet of water from the lake. An acre-foot of water contains approximately 326,000 gallons.

Russell released 1,683 acre-feet of water while another 1,386 acre-feet of water in a recharge pool in the lake were released.

Nearly 1 billion gallons of water flowed down Smoky Hill River in July and August 2006, recharging the Hays wellfield near Schoenchen before making its way downstream to Pfeifer.

He said Russell first wants to talk with the state and has a call in to the Kansas Water Office.

Even though Cedar Bluff is more than 19 feet below its designed operating level, the city of Russell and KWO have a combined 3,500 acre-feet of water available for release if a request is made.

A release also would benefit the Hays wellfield, which still was in excellent condition -- but just barely -- as of June 20.