A local power company's request for additional water flow on the Kansas River has caused alarm among officers of a river water compact, who say the move could threaten long-term water supplies to cities and industry that draw from the river.
On Friday, Stephen Hill of the Bowersock Mills & Power Co. said he was asking the state's Division of Water Resources to divert water heading for Tuttle Creek Reservoir, which is near Manhattan, into the Kansas River. Hill said the Bowersock Dam needed the additional flows to generate electricity, which the company sells to KPL Gas Service.
However, Kent Weatherby, secretary of the Kansas River Water Assurance District, said he was deeply concerned about the Bowersock request.
"If the inflows (to Tuttle Creek) are bypassed to satisfy the needs of Bowersock, that means there's only 27,500 acre feet of water that's available to meet the demand of the assurance district," Weatherby said. "In a prolonged drought, this has tremendous long-term effects."
WEATHERBY SAID the Bowersock Mill & Power Co. is not a member of the assurance district, which was formed in 1987 to ensure adequate water supplies for river water users. Weatherby maintained that Bowersock enjoys advantages of the district's guaranteed water supply without having to pay any of the costs incurred by the district, such as construction of storage facilities for the water.
"He's riding free on assurance district water anyway," he said of Hill.
Weatherby said members of the district have tried in the past to explain to Bowersock's owners that additional flows for the power company could have an adverse impact on all users of Kansas River water.
"He is doing things that potentially destroy the assurance district and could force it to run out of water in time of drought," Weatherby said.
"He's looking for a short-term advantage over everybody in the basin," he said.
Hill said this morning that Bowersock was entitled to the water it had requested and that the dam's water right superceded the assurance district's.
"If by requesting what is ours we thereby have an impact on some other water user, it is because they were using something that doesn't belong to them," Hill said.
"JUNIOR WATER rights or appropriated water rights (such as the assurance district's) can be satisfied only if the vested water rights (such as Bowersock's) are taken care of first," he said.
Bowersock holds vested water rights that date back to the 1870s and predate the state's 1945 law governing water rights, Hill said.
The company 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. The current flow at the power company is between 1,000 and 1,100 cubic feet per second, a level that allows the dams to operate only two or three of its electricity-generating turbines.
Hill said the power company made the request as a business move and not because KPL was requiring Bowersock to maintain the supply of any contracted level of electricity.
"If we don't generate power, we don't get paid," Hill said. "We are a business, we are interested in revenue."
David Pope, chief engineer for the state's Division of Water Resources, said this morning that a field investigator was out checking water levels on the river. Pope said officials initially had been supplied erroneous figures on the available water supply and mistakenly believed Friday that water was available to meet Bowersock's request.
POPE SAID that if staff determined that all the available water already was flowing into the river, Bowersock would not be entitled to additional water.
"If nature will only supply 1,000 cubic feet, that's all he's going to get," Pope said of Hill.
Weatherby said the district was trying to schedule a board meeting to decide a course of action in response to the Bowersock request.
In the meantime, Dick Pelton, president of the assurance district, said members would be studying the Bowersock request but that it was too early to say what action the district would take.
"Are we concerned? Yes, very much so. Are we looking into the options? Yes," Pelton said.