Gaylen Garinger loves living in the country.
He enjoys the tranquility of his rural home on 21 acres, 10 minutes southwest of Lawrence along East 1000 Road. To unwind, he and his wife, Brandy, stroll on the mowed paths in the woods behind the house.
But there's a problem with the Garingers' Douglas County getaway.
Since the 56-year-old Lawrence native built his home seven years ago, he has been unable to hook up to rural water.
"It's been an incredibly frustrating experience," Garinger said of his inability to get a water meter.
Garinger has a 180-feet-deep well, but it pumps saltwater instead of fresh water. So he and his wife can't drink it or cook with it.
Instead, the Garingers buy at least 15 gallons of water a week as part of their trip to the grocery store.
Garinger, whose home is in Douglas Country Rural Water District No. 5, is among the nearly 180 people in the growing area from Clinton Lake to south of Lone Star Lake who are waiting for a water meter to gain access to the rural water system.
Ironically, there is plenty of water in Douglas County. With two main water sources, Clinton Reservoir and the Kansas River, Lawrence and Douglas County have reason to be optimistic about having enough water to grow.
"We're in pretty good shape as of now and in the foreseeable future," said Chris Stewart, Lawrence's assistant utilities director for the water division.
And while water hasn't been an issue for local builders and developers in the city, it has restricted growth in rural Douglas County.
Mark Buhler, supervising broker for Stephens Real Estate, has been "in and around" local development the last 30 years. Buhler said that while he's not against developing in rural Douglas County, the availability of utilities makes it difficult.
"There's a reason 90,000 people live in Lawrence and 15,000 live in the country; it's easier to get services if you live closer," Buhler said.
For those in Douglas County Rural Water District No. 5, the dearth of water connections is causing a problem. RWD No. 5, which receives its water from Clinton Reservoir via the Clinton water treatment plant, has a contract with the city that stipulates how much water it receives and the number of water connections, or meters, it is allowed.
"We could handle our growth issues better if we didn't have meter limitations," said Larry Wray, general manager of RWD No. 5. "It's annihilating our planning. We can't plan when we know we're only installing 28 meters a year," Wray said.
The district's contract caps its water connections until 2013. That means anyone who wants to build has to wait for a water connection or dig a well. And that has flustered the folks in RWD No. 5.
"Don't control our growth with water," said Sharon Dwyer, office manager of RWD No. 5 for the last 25 years. "Control it with zoning."
David Corliss, Lawrence interim city manager, said the city commission wants to identify the best practices for growth in unincorporated areas, like RWD No. 5. That is one reason plans to renegotiate the contract in order to ease meter restrictions remain on hold.
When the contract was written in the late 1970s, Corliss said, it outlined the city's responsibility to provide potable water for rural areas.
Corliss said meter limitations were in place to keep the rural areas using city water just that: rural. The contract, he said, is designed to prevent any urbanization outside of a nearby city.
In contrast, getting a water hookup inside Lawrence is not difficult at all.
According to Dee Dee Commons, senior accounting clerk for the utilities department, it generally takes three to four weeks for a person to receive a water meter in the city of Lawrence.
Complaints about getting water meters are rare, according to assistant water director Stewart. "I've not really heard of anything in regards to meter installation or timeliness," he said.
Water hookups in the city should not be a problem for years to come. Corliss maintained that "Lawrence residents can feel confident about their water utilities. We are continuing to improve the infrastructure to ensure citizens safe drinking water now and into the future."
One way the city is doing that is by increasing the amount of water it gets from Clinton Lake.
The Clinton water treatment plant is rated to treat up to 15 million gallons a day from the reservoir. With construction on a $15-million plant expansion set to begin next spring and completion expected by summer 2008, the plant's goal is to treat up to 25 million gallons daily.
Stewart said that while he believes Lawrence's water supply is secure for the next 40 to 50 years, there is plenty of work to be done to identify potential water sources beyond 2050.
Ken Grotewiel, assistant director of the Kansas Water Office, said his agency is already looking at what those potential sources could be. He said the Kansas River will remain a valuable resource, and that the water office is working with the Kansas Biological and Geographical Surveys to identify ways to prolong the lives of Kansas reservoirs.
Grotewiel also suggested conservation methods should be part of the solution. If Kansas residents change their habits and use less water, that could make a big difference, Grotewiel said.
Though city officials remain optimistic about the city's water supply, there are potential conflicts downstream, most notably, the future of Clinton Lake.
Sedimentation, climate change and the over-allocation of the Lake's water rights are all factors that could affect the life cycle of the nearly 30-year-old reservoir.
The reality is, Clinton Lake has not had a sedimentation study done in 15 years, according to Kyle Juracek, research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.
A survey is tentatively scheduled for next summer, according to Andy Ziegler, studies chief for the USGS. The survey would be a cooperative effort between the USGS and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. The cost and scope of the study has yet to be determined.
Climate change, while not as certain as sedimentation, is a potentially serious problem for Clinton Lake, according to Bob Buddemeier, senior scientist for the Kansas Geological Survey, who studies geohydrology.
Buddemeier said if the climate shifted and became much drier, there would be cause for major concern. Yet, he contends that most people aren't worrying about climate change.
"Sedimentation has numbers, so people are thinking about it," Buddemeier said. "If you can't count it; people won't be as prepared for it."
Buddemeier said it is tough to actually predict a severe climate change, but said recent climate trends do indicate longer dry spells.
As much as Mother Nature and the environment play a part in determining the future of Kansas water supply, the Kansas Water Office's role in deciding who gets water may be the most important.
Bruce Smith, Douglas County Rural Water District No. 3 manager, said that water rights have to be secured now to prepare for the future. And with so few water rights to go around and prices for existing rights increasing, the pressure to grab more water rights has intensified.
"The days of cheap water are over," Smith said.
A few years ago, RWD No. 3 attempted to get 200 million more gallons a year in addition to the allotted 700 million it was receiving from the Clinton Reservoir. Unsatisfied with the state's counter-offer, RWD No. 3 is now looking at securing water rights from the Kansas River Basin, Smith said.
Meanwhile, rural homeowner Gaylen Garinger remains without fresh water.
He's tiring of the inconvenience of driving into town to get drinking water. He wouldn't mind having a garden and maybe even a goat to roam the acreage. However both would require a reliable source of fresh water.
And if Garinger can't get a water meter?
Maybe he'll use an existing freshwater well on his property that needs an electric pump; but cost and quality of water issues hinder that idea. Regardless, he and his wife have a new perspective on water - they don't take it for granted.
"Not now," Garinger said. "Because out here, you can't."