Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Large water bills loom

Reservoirs may be costly for Lawrence

May 30, 2006


Water drinkers, the state of Kansas has something it wants you to know: We have a really big bill to pay.

State water officials are quickly realizing they need to begin accumulating tens of millions of dollars to meet decades-old obligations to the federal government to help pay for reservoirs - such as Clinton Lake - that are used to store future drinking water supplies.

"We have some concerns right now," said Cheryl Buttenhoff, a public service administrator in the Kansas Water Marketing Program.

So do Lawrence leaders, who fear the state will begin charging cities and rural water districts that use water from the lakes higher fees that ultimately must be passed to water customers.

"I'm still trying to analyze everything, but the prices they are showing me right now really do concern me," said Chris Stewart, the city's interim director of utilities who oversees Lawrence's water system.

At the heart of the issue: Those who run the marketing program - which is part of the Kansas Water Office - know that as northeast Kansas continues to grow, more water supplies will be needed.

Finding the water isn't hard. Paying for it might be.

There's water available in Clinton Lake and Hillsdale Lake, which is south of Kansas City in Miami County. Both lakes already are used to provide water to surrounding communities, but the lakes have the ability to provide even more.

But to do so will require the state to activate water storage contracts. And that will take money - in some cases, lots of money.

Everyone foots the bill

To access additional water in Hillsdale Lake, the state must activate a $20 million agreement that is growing more expensive each year. That's because the contract began accruing interest shortly after the lake was built in the early 1980s. Currently, interest is accruing at the rate of about $1.5 million per year. The contract for Clinton - mainly because it was built several years earlier - is only about $2 million.

Sounds like bad news for people who need water out of Hillsdale Lake, right? Actually, it's bad news for Lawrence and Douglas County, too. That's because the state doesn't break its costs out by lake. It spreads them across all members of its program, which in this area includes Lawrence, Baldwin, Lecompton, Wellsville, Edgerton and Douglas County Rural Water District No. 4. Under state law, area water users will help pay to access water at Hillsdale even though they won't use any of it.

Just how much everyone will be asked to pay, though, isn't yet known. Currently, the marketing program charges cities and rural water districts 12 cents for every 1,000 gallons of water used, which is passed along to customers. Preliminary plans would allow that rate to increase to 20 cents in 2007 and all the way to 85 cents by 2016.

Given that an average household uses about 10,000 gallons of water per month, the extra fees may be less than a dollar per month in the early stages of a rate increase program. But by 2016, when the rate hits its peak, the increase could amount to about $7 per month.

And those increases would be in addition to increases related to higher treatment costs and just plain inflation. For example, Lawrence water rates have been increasing by about 4 percent per year in recent years.

"It doesn't sound very troublesome at first, but you can see that at a certain point it will cause some people to feel some pain," said Scott Schultz, administrator for Rural Water District No. 4.

That pain also will be affected by water bills that already vary month to month. In the winter, when water usage is low, the additional fees may amount only to a few cents per month. But in the summer, when people are watering lawns and gardens, the increase could amount to more than $20 or $30 a month.

Long-term prospects

Margaret Fast, planning manager for the marketing program, said the state would be looking for options other than increasing fees. For example, the state may approach the federal government about deferring the interest payments for a period. Other states, including Oklahoma, also are seeking such help to deal with similar situations.

Whether those efforts will be successful is unknown. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is due the money because when it began building federal reservoirs in the state in the 1960s, it asked the state whether it wanted to help pay to make the lakes functional for large-scale drinking water storage. Without the state participation, the lakes would have been built primarily for flood-control purposes.

"We are looking at every alternative we possibly can come up with to make this program financially sound for the long-term," Fast said. "We want to meet our obligation to the Corps and to the people who rely on these resources."

Schultz, though, thinks many people will want to know why the state didn't do more planning to phase the rate increases in over a longer period of time. After all, he said, the lakes have been in operation for decades and it always has been assumed that more water will be needed as population grows.

Fast said part of the reason is a simple misunderstanding of the contracts. She said state leaders did not fully understand that interest would begin accruing the moment the state began using water from each lake. State leaders were under the impression the accrual would occur in phases.

The state also thought it had some ability to increase the rates of several large contracts it signed with users early on in the program's history. But an attorney general's opinion has ruled those contract rates must be left at 10 cents per 1,000 gallons. Lawrence has some of those fixed-rate contracts but also has some of the newer contracts that allow for rates to be increased.


Kelly Powell 12 years ago

What the would think they would have lawyers read the freakin contracts.......This could of been avoided by tacking on a penny to the bill when it first started, or at least it would of cushioned the shock.....This sounds more like a earlier adminastration did not want to look like the bad guy and passed the buck to the future.

Kookamooka 12 years ago

Our decadent society worships SUV's that guzzle gas and lush green lawns that guzzle water. We can't sustain ourselves this way. Whenever I pass a sprinkler system watering yards in the rain I want to scream. Waste, waste, waste!

xenophonschild 12 years ago

Is there no end to it? Death by a thousand cuts. Oh well, like Camus said, it's only money.

craigers 12 years ago

Sorry, but some people like having nice looking yards that don't crunch when you walk on them. The increase stinks, but what's new? Our gas bills have gone up, the electricity has gone up, next in line is water. Why are we surprised?

Steve Mechels 12 years ago

This is a major problem all over the U.S.; due to subsidized system (in this case water), consumers are not paying the true cost of the resource. Because of this the infrastructure can't be maintained due to costs. We will now bear the brunt of the costs of everyones water from 20+ years ago.

In order to make people conserve more, Lawrence also needs to change the pricing system and make everyone pay for exactly what they use; there is currently no incentive to conserve water.

jafs 12 years ago

The average household uses 10,000 gallons of water/month? That's over 300 gallons of water a day! How can that be necessary? We are very fortunate to have a supply of clean water easily available in this country - you'd think we could conserve a bit.

GardenMomma 12 years ago

Another way to conserve water is to grow plants that are native to our area. These plants are pretty, interesting, and can tolerate the weather that we get in Kansas, including long periods of drought, heat, and sun.

p> has a list of plants that do well in Kansas and Missouri. You can choose sun, shade, or a mixture of sun & shade plants. They also list nurseries and farms that carry the native plants.

corrienteroper 12 years ago

"Luxury tax" would be fine, if the correct people are being taxed. My family uses more than 10,000 gallons per month, but not to water the lawn. We have livestock to keep watered, therefore we use way more than 10,000 gallons per month.

I too agree that those who choose to have those lush green lawns, should be the ones to pay the extra. For those of us that don't care if our yards are green or brown, we should not have to pay extra for what others are taking advantage of.

Tis the way of everything though. We all pay for others mistakes of years ago, and we will continue to pay for what we don't use today.

mefirst 12 years ago


What will you do when the water runs out? How will you sustain your precious, green lawn? Maybe then your priorties will shift and the lawn won't be quite as important. But guess what, it'll be too late.

craigers 12 years ago

The water runs out? Are you serious, well by all means let me stop. First of all, I haven't watered my yard all year and the only time I will is when I put fertilizer on. But I guess I am an overzealous home-owner that likes his home to look nice. I guess shame on me.

Bradley Kemp 12 years ago

"My family uses more than 10,000 gallons per month, but not to water the lawn. We have livestock to keep watered ... I too agree that those who choose to have those lush green lawns, should be the ones to pay the extra."

What? You choose to keep livestock, I choose to have a green lawn. What's the difference? Why is what you do with your water to be preferred over what I do with my water? Especially if you keep livestock as a commercial endeavor. Why should your purchase of water to generate a private profit be made at a preferential price?

Richard Heckler 12 years ago

Stop watering grass as it will likely survive although it may brown out until cooler wet times return. If a grass does not survive Kansas heat and drought get a different grass. Also plant more of the yard into beds of native plants thus cutting way back on grass maintenance thus less toxic herbicides and fertilizers.

Hand water plants and/or use soaker hoses.


b_asinbeer 12 years ago

Also may want to check for a leak. Toilets are a very big problem in causing large water bills. Even a leak that's slightly bigger than the period at the end of this sentence is going to cause a skyrocket in water bills.

Godot 12 years ago

How did this article spark a discussion about water conservation, class warfare and punishing the rich people with green lawns?

Quoting the article:

"Finding the water isn't hard. Paying for it might be.

There's water available in Clinton Lake and Hillsdale Lake, which is south of Kansas City in Miami County. Both lakes already are used to provide water to surrounding communities, but the lakes have the ability to provide even more."

If you don't want to pay for the water, don't use it. The cost increase has nothing to do with other people's use, it has to do with 40 years of inept budgeting and management by a series of legislatures and governors.

Christine Pennewell Davis 12 years ago

well it sounds like they should have prepared for this and been setting money aside all this time until waiting till the last minute. most people try to plan ahead for unexpected and save or set up accounts for things like taxes they may have to pay, were the big wigs or leaders just being lazy or what??? come on get with the real world and think ahead. And i do believe the article said it did not matter if you used the water or not all will have to pay for this "little" blunder sorry all

unite2revolt 12 years ago

As a renter I let the landlord pay for my water use.

corrienteroper 12 years ago

Souki, are you a meat eater? If so, don't ask dumb questions. If not, your loss. And I didn't say my preference of watering the cattle was a better one than your watering the grass. You do know what an assumption does, don't you?

gccs14r 12 years ago

Kansas can't support 2+ million people, because there isn't enough water. We're mining water right now just to break even and when that runs out, we're screwed. Kansas should have maybe ten thousand humans in it. Eventually nature will force things back into balance, but that's the ugly brutal way to go about it.

Corrienteroper, you shouldn't be watering cows. If you don't have a natural water source on your property sufficient to the task, you're growing the wrong thing. Absolutely you should pay extra for wasting water. Same goes for corn farmers and anyone else who irrigates anything.

KsTwister 12 years ago

Don't plant water gardens,you'll save not having to keep your investment soaked in the dry months. And plantings close to concrete take more roundabouts!

GardenMomma 12 years ago

Right on merrill! Native plants not only do much better in the heat and dry times of our summers, but they are also very pretty and add much interest to a yard.

Mulching also keeps the moisture in.

Have you heard about the 10,000 raingardens program in KC?

Godot 12 years ago

unite2revolt wrote:

"As a renter I let the landlord pay for my water use."

Not for long, you won't.

nonimbyks 12 years ago

Does anyone in government know what the hell is going on anymore? These clowns get paid to "take care" of the public, they suck.

Bradley Kemp 12 years ago

"Souki, are you a meat eater? If so, don't ask dumb questions. If not, your loss. And I didn't say my preference of watering the cattle was a better one than your watering the grass."

If you're a meat-eater, don't ask dumb questions. Sure. That follows.

You said that I should pay more for water to keep my lawn green than you should pay to keep your commercial product viable. And what justification is there for that?

Godot 12 years ago

Marion wrote: "How many little towns in Western Kansas can we buy today for $10,000.00?"

Ask the Maharishi School of Transcendental Meditation. They probably got Smith Cneter for less than that.

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