A state investigation into Kansas River basin water availability shows there's not enough water flowing into the river to meet the water flow request of the owner of Lawrence's Bowersock Dam.
Dale Mahan, water commissioner for the Topeka field office of the Division of Water Resources, said his analysis of water flows in the Kansas River basin showed that only 31 cubic feet per second (cfs) were available to meet the Bowersock request to raise the flow level to 2,000 cubic feet per second or restoration of a natural flow level for this time of year, whichever is less.
The state's findings mean that Bowersock representative Stephen Hill, whose family owns the Bowersock Mills and Power Co., the operator of the dam, must decide whether to formally exercise his vested water right and request the additional 31 cfs of water, Mahan said.
"Nothing is likely to occur unless Mr. Hill chooses to ask for his right to be administered, and that would be up to him," Mahan said.
Mahan said he talked briefly with Hill on Friday.
"HE INDICATED he wanted to take a while to study it and to determine what route he would choose to take," Mahan said. Hill could not be reached for comment Friday night or this morning.
On Jan. 10, Hill asked for a flow of 2,000 cfs at the dam or a restoration of the normal flow for this time of year, whichever is less. The water flow at the dam had been running from 1,000 cfs to 1,100 cfs. Bowersock sells the electricity it generates to KPL Gas Service Co.
Hill said Bowersock generates "in the neighborhood of 10 million kilowatts to 11 million kilowatts" annually for KPL, an amount that "varies with water conditions."
Michel' Quakenbush, KPL director of media relations, said KPL paid Bowersock $173,500 for the 8,890.2 kilowatt-hours the dam produced from January 1991 to November 1991. A kilowatt-hour is the amount of electrical energy consumed when 1,000 watts are used in an hour.
Hill based his request for increased water flow on the company's vested water rights, which date to the 1870s and pre-date the state's 1945 law governing water rights. That senior right can take precedence over water rights of other entities.
SHOULD HILL exercise his right and call for a "regulation," or ruling, the water apparently would come from KPL's Jeffery Energy Center northwest of St. Marys. Jeffrey is pumping 31 cfs from the river, Mahan said, and has water rights junior to those of Bowersock.
"That's under an appropriation right rather than a vested right, and appropriation rights are junior to vested rights," he said of Jeffrey's water rights.
The Jeffrey center would have three options for other water sources if Hill requests his 31 cfs of water. Mahan said Jeffrey could use contract water stored in Milford Reservoir, or use storage from the Kansas River Water Assurance District, or draw from its own storage at the site.
Mahan's investigation showed other water wasn't available to meet Bowersock's request.
"My findings are that essentially all flows that are going into the three federal reservoirs Milford, Tuttle Creek and Perry are being passed on through," he said. "So there is no net water that is going into storage, if you will, that could be secured and passed on through."
MAHAN LATER said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had told him at mid-week that the total outflow at the three reservoirs was 5 cfs greater than the inflow.
The state's study also surveyed other users of Kansas River water, he said. The entities the city of Topeka, KPL's Tecumseh and Lawrence plants and the city of Lawrence, all were pumping water from the river under their vested rights.
He said he doesn't expect any impact on those users. "So essentially, if regulation was to occur, the most that could be achieved would be the 31 cfs, and that would be subject to any stream loss in transit between (Jeffrey) and Lawrence."
Hill earlier said the current water flow of 1,000 cfs to 1,100 cfs allowed the dams to operate only two or three of its electricity-generating turbines.
"IF WE DON'T generate power, we don't get paid," he said. "We are a business, we are interested in revenue."
Quakenbush explained the arrangement between KPL and Bowersock as "a matter of federal permits, hydropower generation and the KCC. All of these factors come into play. Because he is generating power, we have the system to put the power out to our customers, so we buy whatever he generates."
But the power Bowersock produces is a tiny part of KPL's overall picture.
"The power that Bowersock generates really isn't enough to light half of downtown Lawrence. It's not that significant," Quakenbush said.
The coal-powered Jeffrey Energy Center is KPL's major electrical producer, Quakenbush said.
Hill's request also has troubled the Kansas River Water Assurance District, which includes municipalities along the river. Bowersock is not a member of the assurance district.
Earlier this week, the district's secretary said Hill's request could have serious long-term effects for the district.
DICK PELTON, assurance district president, said he wanted to update a 1986 consultant's report that studied the correlation between the river level and power generation at Bowersock. He said the report indicates "there possibly could be somewhere between $2,500 and $2,700 (annual) damage to Bowersock purely from a generation standpoint because of being denied the flows.
"That does not take into account, though, the water that is being released by the assurance district and what value it has to him that isn't costing him anything," he said of Hill. "The difference between the natural stream flow and what is being augmented by the assurance district would be somewhere around 400 cfs. What value is that to him? I don't know."