Archive for Sunday, October 9, 1994

S THE WAITING GAME FOR RURAL WATER DISTRICTS

October 9, 1994

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Water meters are still a point of contention between city and country dwellers in Douglas County.

Rural water officials say tempers in the county continue to simmer while water districts seek a way out of the city of Lawrence's water meter limits.

Although water districts are under pressure to provide meters they can't issue, officials say solutions will require long-term, strategic planning.

``We're not making any fast moves right now,'' said Wayne Flory, chairman of Rural Water District No. 2, which is south of Lawrence.

Like his counterparts in two other districts that have run short of meters, Flory said solutions are a tangle of money, infrastructure and government regulations. Until all those concerns can be addressed, the City of Lawrence has the three southern Douglas County districts over a barrel.

``It's kind of pitiful to have to tell people we don't have any meters,'' Flory said, noting that, under the contract limits imposed in 1975, his district will be able to issue only four new meters in 1995.

``We just need more than what we have -- not an enormous amount more,'' Flory said. He estimated that 10 more meters a year would allow the district, which has a waiting list that stretches past the year 2000, to meet demand without fueling the boom in the rural population.

``If the city would just be more considerate with us and stop using water to control growth, we could get along fine,'' he said.

Controlling the tap

City officials make no bones about using water meters as a lever to minimize development in unincorporated Douglas County. They say rural growth places a burden on city services, particularly in areas that are likely to be annexed into the city someday.

Lawrence City Commissioner Bob Moody said city and county officials have continued to meet, although rural water district officials have not been part of the negotiations. So far, the county has been unwilling to increase rural development restrictions enough to win water meter concessions from the city.

``We're working toward trying to come up with something that protects the city's interest and gives the rural water districts more meters and incorporates good planning practices in the county,'' Moody said.

But rural water district officials, who say they are being forced to deal with growth they didn't create, are so pessimistic about the chances for a friendly resolution that they're looking elsewhere for water.

Long-term solutions

Right now, all eyes are on Rural Water District No. 4, which stretches from Baldwin almost to Lawrence and Eudora. Chairman Dale Cranston said his members are awaiting the results of an engineering and feasibility study, due in a few months, on alternatives to buying water from Lawrence.

Cranston said his district, which has stopped adding names to its waiting list, had no choice but to look elsewhere.

``I think our area between Baldwin and Lawrence is growing as fast as any of them,'' he said.

However, like Flory in RWD No. 2, Cranston said his district isn't looking for a quick fix. His district is looking for a 20- to 30-year solution.

Cranston's district already is trying to solve the problem of water storage by building a second tower. The next issue will be a source of water, and the district is considering several alternatives, including taking over an idle water plant at the former Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant at DeSoto.

The magnitude of the challenge facing the water districts is illustrated by Rural Water District No. 5, which lies south of Clinton Lake. Water districts were established to provide a reliable source of water for farmers and homesteaders, a small order compared to the new vision of full-service utilities.

Sharon Dwyer, secretary of RWD No. 5, said all 800 of the district's meters are spoken for and 64 people are on the waiting list. Still, the district would have to beef up its infrastructure before being able to add enough meters to satisfy demand.

``It's kind of a dog-chasing-its-tail situation,'' Dwyer said. "We don't have the money to make these improvements but we can't sell more meters to raise more money.''

The Baldwin connection

Also watching the outcome of the rural water flap is the City of Baldwin, another Lawrence water customer. Baldwin City Manager Brian Wilcox said the town might be interested in cooperating or doing business with RWD No. 4, if that district gets its own plant.

``Our primary interest is in securing a backup supply of water in the event of a line break between our meter at 31st and Haskell and here. We're especially vulnerable crossing the Wakarusa River,'' Wilcox said.

``Beyond that, our interest is economic. We would be interested in an alternate supply of water we would be able to market to other cities in the area,'' he said.

As it is, Baldwin already resells Lawrence water, a practice water district officials say underscores the fact that the City of Lawrence's supply, which comes from Clinton Lake, is not at risk.

Wilcox said that last year Baldwin sold 64 million gallons of water to Wellsville and another 32 million gallons to Edgerton.

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