Chat about the future of Bowersock Dam with Philip Ciesielski

November 12, 2007

This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.

Philip Ciesielski

Philip Ciesielski, assistant utilities director for the city, will chat about the role the Bowersock Dam plays in the city's water system, and about a new report that outlines repairs that are needed for the dam.


Hi, I'm Joel Mathis. Philip is here and ready to take questions. Welcome!

Philip Ciesielski:

Good afternoon Joel and thanks for having me online to discuss the Bowersock Dam.


This morning, Chad Lawhorn reported that there are worries about the stability of Bowersock Dam, which was built in the 1870s. Is that unusually old for an American bridge?

Philip Ciesielski:

That is fairly old for any structure. Some of the current questions are due to the lack of information available about the original construction of structure and the inability to thoroughly investigate the areas below the surface. Based on the report cited we are comfortable the current short term repairs will provide the stability required while we continue to assess the structure and explore options for its long term needs.


The Pallid Sturgeon is extinct in the Kaw River upstream from Lawrence, Kansas because Bowersock Dam has prevented it from gaining access to its upstream spawning ground since 1874. Has the Kansas Department of Wildlife ever suggested building a fish ladder to remedy that situation?

KANSAS: Its Interior and Exterior Life by Sara Robinson
May 12th, 1855-- "A most curious fish was sent in from Topeka today. It has a long, projecting, sword-shaped upper jaw, and no lower jaw, -- the mouth being an opening in the under side of the upper one. After being stuffed, it will be sent to Boston."

Philip Ciesielski:

I am not aware of any requests from the Kansas Dept of Wildlife to modify the existing structure. Issues such as this would be addressed under permit reviews at the time of any reconstruction or replacement of the dam.


Is the dam essential? Could Lawrence still get water from the Kaw if it were allowed to lfow freely again?

Philip Ciesielski:

The city's current infrastructure to divert water from the Kaw River to the Kaw Water Treatment Plant is designed to operate with the upstream pool provided by the Bowersock Dam. As we further assess the dam and the long term water needs of Lawrence we will evaluate all options in addition to surface water.


If the Hill family is making money from power because of the dam, what would be an appropriate cost for them to pay for the studies and/or replacement. After all, they benefit finacially more than do the taxpayers in Lawrence. The dam is not needed for a water supply.

Philip Ciesielski:

A division of cost for future replacement or rehabilitation of the dam may encompass entities other than the City. The current maintenance needs, including investigations into the dam's current condition, are handled by the City per a contractual agreement with the Bowersock group.


If the dam failed, what would that look like? Would it all go at once (say, like in 'Superman') or would it kind of crumble away? And if that's the case, is it crumbling away right now?

Philip Ciesielski:

At this time we are not forecasting the failure of the dam. As indicated in the article this morning the current maintenance project is to address locations where voids have developed and water is flowing through the dam. As noted in the article there are wooden timbers and other fill within the dam that the project will protect by eliminating the flow of water through them.


From this morning's story: "The engineers estimate long-term costs could range from $7.5 million to about $18 million, depending on how much work is needed. Before that work is done, the engineers recommend that the city study building a new dam, which has a rough cost estimate of $20 million to $25 million." Question: How do we pay for that?

Philip Ciesielski:

As noted in the article the City has budgeted for maintenance for the existing structure this year 2007 and in 2013. As we look at the longer term needs for rehabilitation or construction of a new structure there may be others that benefit from the existence of the dam and we would be looking to engage them in the discussions. As a general note water system projects are funded through the rates assessed for water service.


That's all the questions we have today. Thanks for joining us!


toefungus 10 years, 6 months ago

There will be a massive outcry if water rates rise to replace a dam that the power company can use for free. They must pay a substantial amount for the replacement, as they have been living off subsidies for their entire existence.

Joe Hyde 10 years, 6 months ago

The Hill family is the only private entity that reaps financial profit from the sale of electric power generated by Bowersock Dam. The Hill family owns Bowersock Dam and should therefore be paying for its "needed" repairs.

But Bowersock Dam is also needed by the city of Lawrence as a water supply support structure. The city of Lawrence should therefore pay at least part of the dam's maintanance costs. But if the city pays for maintenance costs, the city should also share in profits that result from the sale of hydro-electric power generated by the dam's turbines.

Absent the Hill family assuming all costs for the dam's maintenance there is no rationale for spending city tax money to perpetuate the dam's existence. Demolition of Bowersock Dam should therefore be considered as an option. With the dam gone the Kaw River bend through Lawrence finally gets returned to its natural hydrology and beauty.

Another option -- if the dam is deemed necessary to the public interest then the city of Lawrence should buy the dam from the Hill family, renovate its hydro-electric equipment and staff its operation with city workers. That way the taxpayers assume all future operational and maintenance costs.

The hell of it is, Lawrence taxpayers have paying for maintenance of this dam for many years. Public money got used to repair Bowersock dam after the damage it suffered in the Great Flood of 1993. Since then I've personally seen city crews removing logjams from the turbine intake chute on the dam's south end. City employees and city tax money are used all the time so that the Hills can continue making money selling hydropower.

The Hills family should take over all costs related to the dam, or the public (city of Lawrence) should take over all costs. No "shared responsibility", as that arrangement invites abuse.

KsTwister 10 years, 6 months ago

Agreed. So many studies on our water issues have already been done by B&V to their advice that your water rates increased in 2004---well you know what is coming. Business deals in Lawrence is like taking advantage of the feeble minded.

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