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Census rejects city's appeal of 2010 population totals; new Census numbers for Douglas County show growth slowed in 2012


I suppose all great disputes get to this point: the discussion of fecal matter.

That is what it has come to in the dispute between Lawrence City Hall and the U.S. Census Bureau.

The city and the Census Bureau still don’t agree on how many people live in Lawrence, and now it is official. The Census Bureau recently notified the city it has rejected the city’s appeal of the bureau’s 2010 Census findings for the city.

No matter, city officials are convinced their local data showing the city has a little more than 94,000 people is correct. And they have at least one unique piece of evidence to back it up: the weight of fecal matter.

City commissioners were told at their Tuesday meeting that the city has at least 30 years worth of data about how much “organic material” comes into the city’s sewer plant each year. (Yes, “organic material” is code for just what you are thinking.) Over the years, that number broken out on a per capita basis has remained pretty steady. Officials with the city’s utilities department told commissioners that the numbers they’re seeing tend to support the city’s population estimate more so than the Census Bureau’s count.

And that sounded good to city commissioners. (Well, maybe that’s not the best way to say that.) Regardless, the new direction for the city is to use the locally produced population estimates rather than relying on data from the Census that local officials now question.

The difference is significant. In 2010, the Census found the city had 87,643 people. The city believed it had about 90,000 people. The city’s Planning Department now estimates the city’s 2013 population to be 94,586 people. The Census hasn’t produced a 2013 population estimate yet, but the city expects it to be around 90,000 people. That’s a difference of about 5 percent.

And the difference likely will get bigger as more years pass because all the estimates use the 2010 total as a baseline. By 2020, who knows how much the Census Bureau and the city will disagree on the city’s population. The numbers have an impact on federal grants and that sort of thing, but the city also needs a good population number to do good planning. Like for a $64 million sewage treatment plant that the city gave preliminary approval to on Tuesday. (That’s why fecal matter data was so readily available, in case you are wondering.)

Population growth is one factor — although not the only one — in the city’s decision to move forward on the large project. The city is betting on a new era of growth. There’s a case to be made for that, but the city can’t point to Census data as a reason for their optimism.

With this appeal now in the books, the decade of the 2000s is now officially the slowest growth period for Lawrence since the Great Depression. The city grew at a rate of 0.9 percent a year for the decade of the 2000s, well below the more than 2 percent annual growth rates the city experienced in the 1980s and 1990s.

As for who is right and who is wrong in this dispute, I don’t know. The fecal data is interesting (never know what phrases you are going to write in this job), but it may not be the best indicator. As utility officials admit, not all of that material is human waste and not all of it comes from households. For example, when Hallmark starts producing more cards and envelopes as part of its Lawrence expansion, that project is expected to produce waste that is the equivalent of about 500 additional people. So, you can see how the numbers may be tough to interpret.

The Census Bureau, though, hasn’t done much to increase its credibility either. In notifying the city it was rejecting its appeal, the bureau did admit that it had messed up the count in some areas of town. But the Census is contending that it got the total count for the city right, but it didn’t allocate that population to some of the neighborhoods correctly. City officials have raised their eyebrows at that.

Tuesday’s meeting and its fecal content did produce a few good jokes from commissioners — mainly about how the city may want to offer its “weighing pooh” method to the Census Bureau.

What won’t be funny is if the city plans for and budgets for a lot of growth, and then it doesn’t happen. We’ll see who gets the last laugh — in about a decade or so.


These numbers are just in this morning, so I thought I would add them on here. The Census Bureau has released it 2012 population estimates for Douglas County.

The new numbers won’t do anything to settle the dispute. If anything, they just add to it.

The Census Bureau found that from July 1, 2011, to July 1, 2012, Douglas County grew at a rate even slower than the rate the 2010 Census found.

The 2012 Douglas County population estimate checks in at 112,864 people, an increase of just 620 people for the year. That’s a growth rate of 0.5 percent. The 2010 Census found Douglas County during the decade of the 2000s grew at an average annual rate of about 1 percent. So now the Census Bureau is estimating we’re growing at about half that rate.

Oh, fecal matter.

Perhaps, the problem is we just don’t have enough purple. The new numbers show population growth around Kansas State University continues to boom. Manhattan’s metro area had a 2.8 percent population increase for the year, the 10th fastest for any metro area in the country.

Geary County, home to Junction City, had an increase of 7.4 percent for the year, the third fastest growth rate of any county in the country.

Douglas County did better than several other places, though. Several counties around us declined for the year. Here’s a look at the numbers for some other area counties:

— Johnson County 559,913 people (1.2 percent growth)

— Leavenworth: 77,739 (0.7 percent increase)

— Wyandotte: 159,129 ( 0.7 percent increase)

— Sedgwick: 503,899 (0.5 percent increase)

— Shawnee 178,991 (less than 0.1 percent increase)

— Franklin County 25,906 (less than 0.1 percent decline)

— Jefferson County 18,945 (0.2 percent decline)

— Osage County: 16,142 (1.1 percent decline)


1southernjayhawk 5 years, 1 month ago

Most of the increase in fecal matter can be directly attributed to city hall and the city commission.

johnsont1 5 years, 1 month ago

Agreed. I think people are starting to get fed up with the obvious influence of local businessmen on the city commission and the series of poor decisions they've made over the last two decades.

KU_cynic 5 years, 1 month ago

Yes, the official line from city hall is that Lawrence is full of ****.

friendlyjhawk 5 years, 1 month ago

HAHAHA at last someone has said NO to Lawrence.

elliottaw 5 years, 1 month ago

Funny that they now count students as residents, population should be closer to 60,000

Chad Lawhorn 5 years, 1 month ago

The Census folks have told me that their policy has always been to count people where they reside on April 1 of the Census year. Thanks, Chad

kuguardgrl13 5 years, 1 month ago

Having been a new freshman that year, I can tell you it was very confusing. The state made it very easy by providing a website that was emailed to all the students. The feds still held to the forms. The census bureau employees were only at certain dorms on certain days. If you happened to be in class all day, then you probably got skipped. Plus I'm sure there were parents who included their college kids despite the form saying not to. So there may be a bunch of students counted among area households. Maybe the state needs to compare data with the feds rather than the city trying to appeal.

DillonBarnes 5 years, 1 month ago

Alright, only one way to solve this, I'll start.


50YearResident 5 years, 1 month ago

The sanitation department' s figures might be off to. 1) People are fatter today. 2) Fatter people discharge more fecal matter. 3) Toilet paper has upgraded from 2 ply to 3 ply, adding weight there too.

patkindle 5 years, 1 month ago

the govt only cares about how many folks live work, and pay taxes in lawrence, the rest are just freeloaders, who live uner the hope and change theroy of living off of the working backs of the tax payers

Richard Heckler 5 years, 1 month ago

Fecal matter is a long shot let's get real. Over and above the many visitors... Lawrence is home to vegans and vegetarians who will generate more fecal matter and toilet paper waste per opportunity.

Fecal matter can hardly be the best tool going. Lawrence does have a lot of empty roof tops as well. My guess is that sometimes Lawrence is about 70,000 when students leave town for breaks and sanity rehab.

smileydog 5 years, 1 month ago

I understand that vegetarians would generate more stools in the stool just from the fiberous material consumed but wouldn't it weigh less than from someone that ate hefty meaty things like burgers? Also, how does the obesity rate stack up to the increase in total doo-doo weight? If the population of Lawrence is 26% obese, double the number of obese people in 2005, then the weight of the poo would increase accordingly.

The City using the weight of its residents' stool, is a real stretch

50YearResident 5 years, 1 month ago

That population measurement system is just a bunch of crap.

down_the_river 5 years, 1 month ago

I appreciate the humor in these comments, yet at the same time it's slightly pathetic that the City has chosen this marker to rest it's case on. There are way too many scenarios to question the validity of this measure of population - garbage disposals, leaves and grass in blended sewer lines (let alone the vegetarian question).

This is likely the most crucial question in the City's planning process. We know that KU has dropped 1800 students since the 2010 census, and with restricted admissions will see that number dropped further in coming years.

Is it not possible to use water usage in the January-February billing period for all residential meters, calculate a baseline ratio from previous decades, then use that to factor current numbers? Of course, if more people are showering together now than in 1980, that might skew the calculations as well.

Boston_Corbett 5 years, 1 month ago

@kuguardgrl13 The feds and the state count students differently.

As Chad indicated, the feds county people where ever they reside on April 1. Students mostly live in Lawrence on April 1. The fed census could care less about student's "hometowns."

The state, on the other hand, wishes to disadvantage Lawrence and Manhatten (and other Regents cities) for state formulas which use census numbers and most importantly, for legislative reapportionment. (25,000 students is a good hunk of a legislative district....we would not want Manhattan and Lawrence having more power in the state Capitol). So Kansas engages in the tomfoolery of a "student only census count" so they may adjust fed numbers by eliminating those students from Regents population counts produced by the feds.

This cynical state census adjustment process used to politically disaffect towns with large student populations involves the "form" which you remember.....but it has nothing to do with how the feds count the decennial census, or produce their subsequent yearly revised estimates in the intervening years.

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