The end of a contentious era between city and rural interests in Douglas County began to come to an end Tuesday night.
City commissioners unanimously approved a new contract with Douglas County Rural Water District No. 5 that removes long-standing limitations on how many water meters the district can add each year.
"I first started trying to get these caps removed in 1990," said a pleased Larry Wray, who serves as the general manager of the southern Douglas County water district.
The caps, at times, left upward of 100 people wanting to purchase a water meter for a rural home but were told they would have to wait. In a few cases, Wray said, even people who suffered from a failed well were told they could not get a water meter.
City leaders, though, had long defended the meter caps as one of the few ways the city could ensure that rural development did not grow out of control and create costly problems for the city as it expanded into unincorporated Douglas County.
"When the history of Lawrence and Douglas County is written, I think the limitations on meters will be seen as having been a very valuable tool," City Manager David Corliss said.
But now, city commissioners say tougher building regulations passed by the county have decreased the need for the meter limitations.
The new contract also marks another first. Since the 1970s, the city has provided water treatment services only for rural water districts. In other words, it has treated water that the rural water districts have owned. But the contract with RWD No. 5 for the first time agrees to sell the water district water owned by the city, if the district runs short of supply.
City staff members say the contract commits less than 1 percent of the city's total water supply to the water district.
Farmers in the Kaw River Valley between Lawrence and Eudora also applauded the new contract. They hope the new contract makes it less likely that a new wholesale water district - which includes RWD No. 5 - will pump groundwater from the river valley. Farmers have protested plans to pump water from the valley because they say it will diminish their ability to grow specialty crops in the future.
The city has had preliminary discussions about selling water to the new wholesale water district. Wray, who serves on the wholesale water district's board, said the group is interested in pursuing a contract with the city.
In other news, the City Commission:
¢ gave positive comments to a proposed riverside shopping and residential district along the Kansas River near Johnny's Tavern in North Lawrence. The leader of the North Lawrence Improvement Association said neighbors were excited about the possible project. Commissioners agreed to formally consider a request to sell the development group some city property near the levee. They'll consider that item at their Oct. 21 meeting.
¢ approved rezonings and a new plat that will allow a proposed commercial center at 23rd and O'Connell Road to grow from about 125,000 square feet to 200,000 square feet.
¢ welcomed Mark Thiel as the new assistant director of public works. Thiel comes to Lawrence after serving as the director of transportation operations for the city of Topeka. Thiel will oversee street maintenance, building maintenance and several other projects for the city.