Utility bills could increase as Clinton Lake water set to become more expensive; less water also expected to come out of Clinton

It’s going to cost the city of Lawrence and other local public water utilities more to get water from Clinton Lake, and that will probably show up on monthly bills in early 2020.

Driving the increases is the Dec. 29, 2019, expiration of Clinton Lake marketing contracts that Lawrence, Baldwin City and Douglas County rural water districts have with the Kansas Water Office. The contracts, which date to 1977, allow the public water utilities to draw raw water from Clinton Lake at the rate of 10 cents per 1,000 gallons, said Brandon McGuire, assistant to the Lawrence city manager.

The city supplements its Clinton Lake marketing contract with a second contract that allows the withdrawal of another 1.4 billion gallons annually from the reservoir at a variable rate that the state establishes each year, said Mike Lawless, deputy director of utilities for the city of Lawrence. The current variable rate is 39.2 cents per 1,000 gallons.

According to the Kansas Water Office’s Public Water 2017 Supply Program Comprehensive Capital Development Plan, the contract payments fund projects that protect water storage capacity in the state’s reservoirs. The plan also says the water office’s 10-cent fixed rate doesn’t cover those costs.

McGuire and Lawless said the Kansas Water Office has informed the City of Lawrence and other utilities that the cheaper, fixed-rate marketing contracts for Clinton Lake won’t be renewed when they expire. Instead, the water office will offer only variable-rate marketing contracts, he said, which currently amount to nearly four times as much.

The water office also informed Lawrence and other water utilities that Clinton Lake can no longer sustain the water withdrawals available under the current marketing contracts and that there will be reduced allocations when those contracts expire, McGuire said.

Lawrence can cushion the consequences of reduced Clinton Lake water and its higher cost because of the much cheaper water it draws from the Kansas River, Lawless said. The city has water rights to use 8.1 billion gallons of water per year from the river; it pays the Kansas River Water Assurance District 2 cents per 1,000 gallons for that raw water, he said.

Lawrence gets about half its water from Clinton Lake and half from the river, Lawless said. With that combination, the city pays from 12 to 13 cents per 1,000 gallons for all the raw water it treats, he said.

A 30-cent increase in much of the water the city gets from Clinton Lake will increase that average cost, and that could well be passed on to customers, Lawless said.

“It’s something we will evaluate with all the costs we have,” he said. “Certainly we have to look at that just as we would look at cost increases in electricity or chemicals to treat water.”

The city has started planning early to lessen the impact of the four-fold increase, Lawless said. That planning has included conversations with the various public water utilities.

Unlike Lawrence, Baldwin City and some of the rural water districts don’t have Kansas River options to help soften the blow when the cost of Clinton Lake water increases. However at the urging of the Kansas Water Office, Lawrence is looking at a solution that would allow them to take advantage of the city’s right to Kansas River water, McGuire and Lawless said.

The proposal, which Lawless and McGuire said was still being refined, would have Lawrence apply for a single pooled variable-rate contract for its use and the use of Baldwin City and the rural water districts. Baldwin City and the water districts would no longer pay the state for Clinton Lake water but would pay Lawrence for treated water that was diverted from the lake and the cheaper Kansas River rights, they said.

City officials have met with representatives from Baldwin City and the rural water district twice on the proposal, McGuire and Lawless said. After those two meetings, they went as a group to the Kansas Water Office to deliver the proposal. They are now waiting for the water office’s response, they said.

Baldwin City Administrator Glenn Rodden said he had informed the Baldwin City Council of the meetings, but the City Council had not yet considered the Lawrence proposal. He anticipated the City Council might be reluctant to give up contract rights to Clinton Lake water when those discussions start, he said.