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City of Hays declares water watch

8/7/2012

By DAWNE LEIKER

dleiker@dailynews.net

City of Hays officials Tuesday morning cautioned residents to step up conservation efforts as a "water watch" was announced.

Hot and dry conditions triggered the water watch, which is the first level of alert in the city of Hays’ water operations plan. A water watch means conditions in the city’s well fields have deteriorated to watch levels and peak daily consumption is at an abnormally high level.

“There’s hope that through voluntary restrictions and reductions we can stabilize well field levels and lower peak daily demand,” City Manager Toby Dougherty said at a Tuesday morning press briefing.

City staff also will be reducing water usage as watering of irrigated ball fields will be reduced significantly and grass at city parks will be allowed to go dormant.

Restrictions implemented by the water watch will mean water permits for newly seeded and sodded lawns will no longer be issued. Street sweeping and hydrant flushing will be discontinued. In addition the city of Hays Police Department will step up efforts to enforce the city’s water wasting ordinances and outdoor watering restrictions.

If the community’s voluntary reductions do not signal reduction in usage or conditions of the well field fail to improve, a water warning level will be triggered, requiring more restrictions on water usage.

“Hays residents are typically very conservation-minded when it comes to watering,” Dougherty said. “We are the standard bearer when it comes to the state of Kansas in per capita consumption.”

However, the summer’s hot and dry conditions have resulted in increased water usage which, if continued, will lead to depletion of water resources, he said.

Residents are being asked to examine their water usage and determine ways to cut back on outdoor watering.

Dougherty said he, himself, has discontinued watering a non-producing vegetable garden and flowers in his own yard and has cut back to a schedule of watering his lawn only once every 10 days.

Holly Dickman Ellis County horticulture agent provided some conservation ideas at the press conference.

Mulching plants, she said. is a good way of conserving moisture. In addition, she discouraged residents from over-watering.

“That’s been one of the biggest things I’ve had calls about or have heard when talking to people,” she said. “I’ve heard them say, ‘it’s so hot, I’ve just been watering and watering.’”

“It’s not necessary to do that. If you’re watering properly from the beginning, nice and deeply, letting it dry out in between times before you water again, you shouldn’t have to water every day.”

Residents were encouraged by Dickman to consider letting go of non-producing gardens.

Lawns can be prompted to go dormant by increasing the intervals between watering and gradually taking it to a once-every two week level.

City of Hays Parks Director Jeff Boyle said efforts to keep trees alive will take precedence over grass and shrubbery.

“Our philosophy is, the cost of trees and replacement of trees is one of our more valuable resources, so we have to cut back on grass because grass can be replanted fairly cheaply,” he said. “But trees are not so cheap and take many years to get established.”

Dougherty said that although residents have been “lulled into a false sense of security with some rainfalls we have had,” the drought has been ongoing for a couple of years, as the Big Creek and Smoky alluvial aquifers have shown significant decline during that time due to lack of rainfall.

City officials will continue to inform residents of the status of the water watch through press releases, and provide in-depth summaries of water supply conditions to the city commission.