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Water concerns continue in Russell





RUSSELL -- Tuesday's brief showers weren't enough to slake Russell's thirst. Or do anything to replenish the city's source of water.

In fact, conditions continue to deteriorate and are coming perilously close to the threshold that would trigger Russell's advance into its most stringent conservation stage.

Currently, water levels in Russell's water wells along the Smoky Hill River near Pfeifer are anywhere from 7 to 7.5 feet above the well screens on the pumps. The city's conservation plan -- currently under review -- calls for advancement into the fourth stage when levels fall to within 8 feet of the screens.

The danger of water levels getting so low, said Russell Public Works Director Arlyn Unrein, is the wells start sucking air and the chances of burning out a motor increase.

Russell is in the third stage of its conservation plan, restricting outside watering to a single day a week.

"Basically, we need rain," Russell City Manager Ralph Wise said Wednesday. "I keep a prayer for rain on my desk."

Under the fourth stage, the greatest share of water would be dedicated to human consumption.

Likely, vehicle washing and lawn watering would be banned, and residents would be asked to reduce water use, by as much as 25 percent.

Current conditions aren't as severe as they were in 2006, Wise said, when the city asked for a release of water from Cedar Bluff Reservoir.

"They might get there," he said.

The Russell Police Department actively has been enforcing water restrictions, issuing 45 warnings. No citations have been handed out, Wise said.

While it's no immediate solution, Russell City Council members, at a work session Tuesday, briefly talked about the idea of building a pipeline from Cedar Bluff to either Pfeifer or Russell's Big Creek wells.

Wise and several other Russell officials met recently with the Division of Water Resources to talk about the idea of building the pipeline, markedly more efficient than simply releasing it into the Smoky Hill River.

Already, he said, the Bureau of Reclamation likes the pipeline idea. But they were quick to say it all would have to be paid for by Russell.

Early estimates suggest it could cost approximately $25 million, depending on where the water is delivered.

Russell owns rights to use approximately 2,000 acre-feet of water from the lake, more than the city currently has rights to in the Smoky basin.

"We don't need that much, but when we call for a release, we don't receive that much," Wise said of the water.

Russell has the rights to approximately 1,800 acre-feet of water in the Smoky Hill and Big Creek, although it hasn't been able to tap into that supply much this year.

At Tuesday's meeting, council members were urged to look to conservation as a way to help solve persistent shortage problems.

Council members also agreed to revisit the city's conservation plan and the water use contract with White Energy's ethanol plant.