Because of the low flow of water in the Kansas River over the Bowersock Dam in Lawrence, the owner of the dam is asking for the state's Division of Water Resources to release more water from upstream reservoirs.
The owner of the dam is Bowersock Mills and Power Co., which in turn is owned by the Hill family of Lawrence.
Speaking for the owners, Stephen Hill said today the low water level at the dam forced his company to exercise long-held rights to the Kansas River water to increase the water flow, which is needed to generate electricty at the dam.
Hill say he is requesting a flow of 2,000 cubic feet of water per second at the dam or a restoration of the normal flow of water for this time of year, whichever is less. The flow of 2,000 cubic feet of water per second would be the full extent of his water rights at this time of year, Hill said.
HILL SAID he didn't expect his request, which he said is the first he has made to exercise water rights, to cause any problems for other water users.
The current water flow at the dam is between 1,000 cubic feet per second and 1,100 cubic feet per second, Hill said, and with that flow the power company can operate two or three of seven turbines to generate electricity, which is sold to Kansas Power and Light Co.
Dave Pope, chief engineer for the Division of Water Resources, said his office received Hill's request Friday and will begin to gather information about the current water flow and what action would be needed to restore it to the level Hill is requesting.
Pope said Friday that his initial opinion is that allowing water that flows into Tuttle Creek Reservoir near Manhattan to bypass the reservoir and continue on to the Kansas River would be sufficient to meet the request.
That would not require a release of currently stored water in the reservoir, Pope said.
POPE'S OFFICE, a division of the state Board of Agriculture, is responsible for administering water rights in the state.
The Bowersock company has a vested water right that dates back to the 1870s and pre-dates the state's 1945 law governing water rights. That senior right can take precedence over water rights of other entities.
Pope said he didn't expect that allowing water to bypass the Tuttle Creek Reservoir would cause any serious problem for other water users in the short-term. He said it conceivably could have an impact in the long-term if water that could be stored in Tuttle Creek continued on to the Kansas River for an extended period.
Such a long-term impact could cause concern for other water users, including members of the Kansas River Water Assurance District, which includes municipalities along the river. Pope said he imagines that members of the district would like the protection of having more water in storage in Tuttle Creek.
IF A PROBLEM did develop, some users who don't have senior rights could approach the water resources office, which would attempt to work out some way to manage water supplies that would be satisfactory to all parties, Pope said.
Pope said the next step is for Hill to file a formal request for exercising his water rights. Once that is done and Pope's office has finishing gathering information about water flow, his office would probably contact the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to ask that water be allowed to move through Tuttle Creek and into the Kansas River.
He said because of Hill's senior right to the water, he believes the corps would be legally bound to comply with the request.