Archive for Friday, January 18, 2008

Mega-water district putting Kaw Valley farmers on defensive

January 18, 2008


Farmers not pumped about water proposal

A proposal to pump up to six hundred and fifty million gallons of water from the Kansas River to parts of southern Douglas County has some farmer along the Kaw concerned. Enlarge video

A water battle may be brewing in Lawrence's Kaw River Valley.

On one side, three area rural water districts have combined forces to form a mega-water district that is looking to pump hundreds of millions of gallons of groundwater out of the Kansas River valley between Lawrence and Eudora. Leaders of the new district say they need the water to meet what is expected to be a growing number of rural homes in parts of southern Douglas County, Franklin, Shawnee and Osage counties in the decades to come.

"We're trying to do the right thing and look down the road for the next 40 to 50 years at what the water needs will be," said Larry Wray, chairman of the new Public Wholesale Water Supply District No. 25, and who also is a leader with Douglas County Rural Water District No. 5.

On the other side, several farmers in the valley say the district's plans would rob them of future water supplies needed to support innovative agriculture operations.

"People say this is some of the best ground in the country, really the world," said Greg Shipe, who grows grapes and other fruit at Davenport Orchards in the valley. "It is ideal for growing food close to home like it was decades ago. But you have to have the water to do it."

The plan

Douglas County Rural Water Districts No. 5 and No. 2 and Osage County Rural Water District No. 5 have combined forces to form the new wholesale water district.

Wray said the group is still in the exploratory stage, but he confirmed that the new district is interested in pumping large amounts of ground water from the low-lying lands between Lawrence and Eudora.

The state's Division of Water Resources is reviewing an application for the district to pump up to 2,000 acre feet of water per year - or about 650 million gallons. But officials with the water resources office said the permit will be only approved if the new district can show that the excess water capacity is available.

Wray said that is the key point. The district is not looking to do anything to affect the existing water rights that farmers in the area have.

"We're not going to change anything," Wray said. "They already have what they have. The state takes all that very seriously."

Wray said the district is trying to drill three test wells in the area to determine whether there is as much water available as engineers believe.

If the tests prove positive, the district would need to build a water treatment plant somewhere in rural Douglas County. Wray said the district has started looking at some sites, but declined to get into specifics.

That's because the first issue is the test wells. Wray confirmed that the district hasn't yet been able to get property owners to consent to the test drilling on their property. State law, however, does give the water districts the power of eminent domain, which could make it difficult for property owners to resist. Wray said the district is exploring that option, but hopes to avoid it.

"I don't like doing that," Wray said. "Nobody does."

Growing concern

Farmers in the area said they understand their existing water rights aren't at risk. But John Pendleton, a grower who owns Pendleton's Country Market in the valley, said the district's plans could stop farmers from expanding their crop operations.

He said it particularly could be harmful to efforts to establish truck farming operations that would grow fruits and vegetables. That's because those crops more likely will need irrigation to survive the Kansas weather.

Pendleton also said the issue brings up questions about the fairness of state water law.

"To me it is shocking that a group can move into an area, have no connection to the area, and attempt to take the water rights," Pendleton said.

None of the water districts that have formed the new wholesale district operates in the river valley. Lane Letourneau, program manager for the Division of Water Resources, however, said state law allows water districts wide latitude in finding water for their customers.

"This isn't unique to this valley," Letourneau said. "It is happening all over the state."

Lawrence limits

Lawrence city commissioners may ultimately indirectly impact the deal. Douglas County Rural Water Districts No. 2 and No. 5 receive the bulk of their treated water from the city's Clinton Water Treatment Plant.

The city, however, has placed significant restrictions on the amount of new water meters that the districts can add in any given year. Wray said the meter caps are one reason the new district is pursuing the river valley deal.

"We get a lot of calls for meters right now that we can't accommodate currently," Wray said of the situation in Douglas County No. 5.

He said Douglas County No. 5 was able to sell about 140 meters in 2006, but won't be able to sell any more meters until at least 2010.

That could change, though, if the city renegotiates its treatment contracts with the water districts. City Manager David Corliss said his staff is working on new draft contracts with the districts. He said the new drafts do not continue the restrictive meter caps that currently exist, although city commissioners have not said whether they will approve the new contracts.

Douglas County commissioners have insisted on the removal of those caps after county commissioners passed new subdivision regulations that limit where people can build new rural homes.

Wray said the new contracts may make the Kansas River valley project unnecessary, but he stopped short of guaranteeing that. He said the new district may still go ahead with the project because it would provide the rural areas with an additional source of water for the future.


Robert Rauktis 10 years, 3 months ago

All ya gotta do is look at California water super districts or the mega-American corporations to see that big is inefficient and super wasteful.

Here is a ticket for scandalous waste of an important resource.

LogicMan 10 years, 3 months ago

"what locations they are considering for this new sewage treatment"

No, proposed is a water treatment plant that makes potable water. The RWDs are not in the sewage business.

Chris Golledge 10 years, 3 months ago

Resign yourselves; water is a limited resource and the population needing it is growing. Simple economics will drive prices up no matter what is done.

It's just a matter trying to decide who gets how much; which is, I guess, the article is about. I'm leaning a bit more toward the farming need at this point because if it's harder for the farmers to get water, then either food prices go up or some local farmers go out of business and we make ourselves more dependent on food brought in from somewhere else. In any case, more conservation needs to be practiced on both sides.

OnlyTheOne 10 years, 3 months ago

Farmers? Yes we have to worry about them but what about the individuals in that area (and nearby) whose homes are on wells!? Idiots will suck the groundwater out and nobody will have water - except their customers elsewhere.

"Tax the rich to feed the poor - 'til there are no rich no more."

fairylight 10 years, 3 months ago

This has been in the works for at least 7 years. At it's inception was the want to have houses built on what has historically been farmland. The thing that has kept this from happening was the non availability of water.

The increase in every-one's property tax will be huge ( if projections prove correct) Farmers and ranchers will most definitely have restrictions on their water usage. The already established rural home will find their average water bill to be approx. 65.00 month for 2 thousand gallons water. ( Water cannot be 'banked' so if for some reason you used less, you still pay the min. as usual)

It's a move for big money to build rural homes for the rich cats in KC. They will then be able to play gentleman farmer.

It truly would behoove anyone affected by this to REALLY research it and become involved in the meetings and vote!

gr 10 years, 3 months ago

"Wray confirmed that the district hasn't yet been able to get property owners to consent to the test drilling on their property."

'Place your foot forward so we can shoot it off!'

Why should Douglas County want more meters? Don't give the lame idea that it will help reduce the water rates. More meters INCREASES rates. Don't give the lame idea that more houses will decrease taxes. More houses INCREASES taxes.

Now, if you should give the idea that developers want more meters for more houses, then you may be onto something.

Besides, the farmers still have their rights. They just may have to drill deeper wells to get to it. And, during droughts, they may be limited so people can water their acreages every other day and fill up their fancy swimming pools. Let farmers buy their food out of the stores like everyone else - ha, ha.

Stu Clark 10 years, 3 months ago

Can anyone tell me why water in District #2, which is produced locally, costs about three times as much as water in Southern Califronia, much of which comes from sources hundreds of miles away? District #2 also admonishes against using its water for irrigation. Why?

Chris Golledge 10 years, 3 months ago


I'm not sure what you are trying to say. When I was young, the population of the U.S. was around 200 million; it recently crossed 300 million. It doesn't matter where the increase comes from, there are more people. Trends measured over 1 or even a few years aren't as reliable as trends measured over 20-40 years. I don't know what the population of KS or even DG was 30 years ago, but I bet it's significantly higher today.

I do remember driving down what is now Wakarusa street when it was a gravel road. Somebody is living in all (ok, most, for you nit-pickers) the new houses and working in all (most) of the new businesses.

Chris Golledge 10 years, 3 months ago

Does Eagle Bend use potable water?

That would be, mmm, inefficient, considering that they could pump irrigation water from the spillway. I would suspect that much of what they used would leach through the dirt back into the Wakarusa river. It would be an apple-pear comparison with consumers who only return waste water to the system.

Water recycles readily/naturally; it is never just gone. We encounter problems when we consume water that we can easily use into waste water or water vapor faster than it is replenished through natural processes. When we exceed the natural carrying capacity, shortages will occur and if there wasn't a shortage, there'd be no argument about who got how much. There is an argument; therefore, demand is exceeding supply. When demand exceeds supply, prices go up.

LogicMan 10 years, 3 months ago

"I do remember driving down what is now Wakarusa street"

Then known as Dragstrip Road due to ... the 1/8th mile drag strip off the west side.

Chris Golledge 10 years, 3 months ago

"Yes and it's free courtesy of the City of Lawrence."

Wow. I'm going to have take up golf again just to make that a little bit less of a waste. ;-\

bd 10 years, 3 months ago

These districts have looked at many different options. They have been litterally backed into a corner by the City of Lawrence, and now the City is scrambling around trying to save face! Osage 5 has a water treatment plant on Clinton but cannot produce any more water because the City of Lawence has purchased "ALL" of the remaining water rights! The two Douglas co. districts are at the mercy of the City Commission. They (commission)have openly admitted that they want to control unregulated growth in the county! They don't want to see the 5-10 acre "farmettes" sping up everywhere.(they don't want the city people to move to the country!) I thought the county commission was responsible to do that????? This whosale district also tried to get the Farmland water rights but was denied suspiciously by the Kansas Water Office?????? (more politics). Chad did a fairly good job stating the facts, just not all of them!

Sigmund 10 years, 3 months ago

cg22165 (Anonymous) says: "Resign yourselves; water is a limited resource and the population needing it is growing. Simple economics will drive prices up no matter what is done."

Water is a limited resource and economics does set the price, but government policy can have a significant impact on supply and demand. The current craze of growing corn to turn into ethanol to run cars is going to have a HUGE impact on the price of water and the price of food.

Gov. Kathy's current policy is little more than a farm subsidy dressed up as ecomentalism and it is going to drive the price of water and food through the roof.

riverdrifter 10 years, 3 months ago

I remember one thing that a farmer/irrigator once told me: "Better to to be upstream with water than downstream with a piece of paper."

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