JETMORE Now that four southwest Kansas counties have approved funding for a 440-acre lake in their sun-parched part of the state, officials with the Pawnee Watershed District are working on the $15.3 million project's final design.
Watershed district administrator Ron Allen said he was in Salina on Thursday working with the engineering firm that is designing the dam that will hold Horse Thief Reservoir. Construction on the recreational facility is expected to begin sometime within the next two years.
"The engineering and design will move forward rather rapidly," Allen said.
Voters in Finney, Ford, Hodgeman and Gray counties overwhelmingly approved a 0.15 percent sales tax this week to help finance the lake and a 1,100-acre park that will surround it. The tax will provide about $9.8 million, and an additional $4.5 million will come from the state.
"The fact that we carried all four counties by a wide margin is very satisfying," Allen said. "They spoke with a pretty loud voice."
The Pawnee Watershed District already has spent $1 million to buy the 1,560-acre site and pay initial engineering costs.
Allen said construction of the dam could begin in early 2007 and be finished by late 2008. Opening of the park could coincide with the dam's completion, but the lake probably won't fill up until 2012 or 2013.
Plans call for a 6,000-foot-long dam to be built along Buckner Creek, about eight miles west of Jetmore in Hodgeman County. Backers promoted the lake as an outdoor recreation option in an area of the state where there aren't many similar options.
The project is expected to be the largest body of water in southwest Kansas, making it an oasis for landlocked residents who must drive for more than an hour to the nearest lake.
Opponents argued there isn't enough rain in that part of the state to fill such a large lake. But Allen, citing a 2001 study by a Topeka firm, pointed out before Tuesday's vote that Horse Thief is one of the few reservoir sites in southwest Kansas capable of satisfying the region's water recreation needs.
"I am not a hydrologist ... but enough hydrologists have studied this and looked at every possible angle that, yes, I am confident it will hold and maintain water," he said.