It didn't take the Hays City Commission long to approve unanimously a resolution directing Hays City Manager Toby Dougherty to move ahead with the development of water resources the city owns in Edwards County.

Dougherty, at Thursday's Hays City Commission meeting, identified the ranch as the "most viable, long-term water solution for the city of Hays."

It's taken more than 60 years, and dozens of engineering studies, to make that determination.

Read aloud by Hays Vice Mayor Henry Schwaller IV, commissioners unanimously adopted an ordinance declaring the R9 Ranch in Edwards County as the "best viable option" as a long-term source of water.

"This will set the wheels in motion," Dougherty said. "The determination has been made at this time that the R9 Ranch is the most viable option out there. There are other options out there, but this is the most viable option."

He told commissioners "there's a significant amount of water rights at the ranch," which is owned jointly by the cities of Hays and Russell.

"It is an expensive project, but when we run our cost estimates and calculations, it is an affordable project," Dougherty said.

Ultimately, the project will affect water rates, but money already in the bank from a half-percent sales tax dedicated to water projects will help defray a big chunck of those costs.

It's estimated the project could cost as much as $65 million to build a pipeline to deliver the water 78 miles north to the city of Hays.

The ranch, encompassing approximately 7,000 acres of land along the Arkansas River south of Kinsley, has about 8,000 acre-feet of water.

The city likely wouldn't be able to tap into the full supply of water because of the difference in what's known as consumptive use of the water.

Dougherty thinks Hays still could be able to get approximately 5,300 acre-feet of water from the ranch even after allowing for consumptive use -- water that otherwise would go back into the ground or evaporate.

Commissioners heralded the move.

"I think this is a pretty historic moment moving forward on this," Commissioner Eber Phelps said of the ordinance. "It's still going to be a lengthy process, but I think we need to get started now."

Commissioner Ron Mellick echoed Dougherty's comments that the R9 Ranch "seems to be the only long-term feasible project, hopefully for 50-plus years."

Commissioner Shaun Musil suggested the idea of conducting town hall meetings "with citizens of Hays to keep them in the loop."

Dougherty said Hays Mayor Kent Steward, who wasn't at the meeting, also had suggested the idea.

Now that the ordinance has been approved, the city will being the process of filing an application with the Division of Water Resources to change the use of water and change its point of diversion.

Filing the application also will trigger the state's Water Transfer Act, a never-before-used legal provision that kicks in when 2,000 acre-feet of water or more will be moved more than 35 miles from its source.

The transfer act will require a public hearing and a host of studies to justify the transfer. The hearing panel will include the state's chief engineer, the director of the Kansas Water Office and the secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.