EDITOR's NOTE: A look back at some of the top stories in 2014.

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Hays took a significant step forward this year when the city commission unanimously passed a resolution directing the city to move ahead with development of water resources it already owns in Edwards County.

At the time, the R9 Ranch, as it's called, was identified by Hays City Manager Toby Dougherty as the "most viable, long-term water solution for the city of Hays."

Purchased by the city of Hays in 1994 for $3.55 million, the ranch contains approximately 7,000 acres of land and 8,000 acre-feet of water rights.

Hays uses approximately 2,100 acre-feet of water annually, water that comes primarily from the Smoky Hill River near Schoenchen, in Big Creek in and around the city of Hays, and a small number of wells reaching into the Dakota Aquifer.

Water from the ranch won't be arriving in Hays anytime soon, however. It's going to be a drawn-out process.

Because the water will entail a transfer between river basins, the decision to move water will trigger the state's Water Transfer Act, a never-before-used process that kicks in anytime 2,000 acre-feet of water or more is moved more than 35 miles from it source.

That trigger sets in stage a full-blown legal process, requiring public hearings and a host of studies designed to justify the transfer. The hearing panel includes the state's chief engineer, the director of the Kansas Water Office and the secretary of Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Changing the use of water from agriculture to municipal also likely will reduce the amount available, but Dougherty estimates it might drop to approximately 5,300 acre-feet of water.

Dougherty said the project might take 10 years to get final regulatory approval, depending on how smoothly that process takes. Another five years of design and construction likely would pass before water starts flowing.

In the meantime, Kansas water officials, pushed along by southwest Kansas irrigators, have been studying the idea of transferring water from the Missouri River near White Cloud to a terminal reservoir in the Utica area.

That $300,000 study is designed to update a 1982 Corps of Engineer's study that first suggested the idea.

Updated numbers suggest the project might cost as much as $25 billion -- more than twice the debt held by public entities in Kansas.

A 50-year water vision plan proposed by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback was finally unveiled in October, but the plan puts off any conservation action for at least another year and creates another layer of bureaucracy.