A shakeup at local United Way; a new beer event for Lawrence; an update on Bowersock power plant; downtown trick-or treat set
There is a brief bit of important news on the social service front today. The No. 1 and No. 2 leaders of the local United Way have submitted their resignations.
Erika Dvorske, CEO of the United Way of Douglas County, and Colleen Gregoire, vice president of resource development for the organization, submitted their resignations at a board meeting Thursday night, according to an email from the United Way.
Dvorske will stay on board through the end of January, while Gregoire will step down at the end of the year. The email said Dvorske plans to do consulting work for nonprofits while Gregoire will pursue “creative interests and other career opportunities.”
I don’t have any more details than those. Obviously, the joint resignation of the top two leaders of the organization will create some questions among the public. We’re putting calls out to various people to provide you a more complete report later today.
• Drink craft beer and get to know your watershed. No, that is not some odd euphemism for the strain beer sometimes puts on your bladder. Instead, it is the theme of a new beer festival in downtown Lawrence — and the latest reminder that Lawrence really will find any excuse to get together to share some suds.
A unique fundraiser is coming up for the Friends of the Kaw group. On Nov. 6, the organization will host its first Beers of the Kaw beer festival at Abe & Jake’s Landing in Downtown Lawrence. The idea is simple, if not unusual: Invite breweries that are located in the Kansas River watershed to bring their beers to Lawrence for a festival.
If you don’t know what a watershed is, congratulations. Those of us who have had to sit through drainage board meetings or listen to a storm water engineer know that a watershed is the area that collects and drains water into, in this case, a river. Think of it this way: A drop of rain falls, the drop drains into a stream, the stream flows in a creek, and the creek dumps into the Kansas River. The land that the drop of water first touched is in the Kansas River watershed, and so are the stream and the creek.
“So many people don’t even know what a watershed is,” said Sarah Hill-Nelson, leader of the Bowersock Mills and Power Company, which operates a hydroelectric power plant on the portion of the Kansas River that flows along downtown Lawrence.
And, as has been well documented, beer is excellent at helping people understand complex topics, which is why the public has turned to it in large quantities while watching this year’s presidential debates.
Well, maybe I’m confused on some of that, but one thing that is clear is the Kansas River watershed is big. The watershed covers about 53,000 square miles. In Colorado it stretches nearly to Limon, in Nebraska it goes north of Hastings, and it ranges almost to McPherson to the south of here.
Come to find out, there are several breweries in that large area. The upcoming event will have nine of them:
— Free State Brewing Company, Lawrence
— 23rd Street Brewery, Lawrence
— Yankee Tank Brewing Company, Lawrence
— Boulevard Brewing Co, Kansas City
— Blind Tiger Brewery, Topeka
— Kansas Territory Brewing Co, Washington
— Tallgrass Brewing Company, Manhattan
— Blue Skye Brewery, Salina
— LB Brewing Company, Hays
Tickets for the event cost $20 and can be bought online at abejakes.com or in person at Sunflower Outdoor & Bike in downtown Lawrence. Proceeds will go to Friends of the Kaw, the nonprofit group that works to care for the river and educate the public about it.
In addition to the beer tastings, the event will have three local food vendors on site: Drasko's Food Truck, Fine Thyme Food and Terrebonne Cafe. Organizers are hoping the Beers of the Kaw event catches on and that attendees get a bit more out of it than the food and the beer.
“If a drop of water fell in eastern Colorado and it wasn’t used for irrigation, it would eventually flow by the Bowersock Dam in Lawrence,” Hill-Nelson said. “We’ve been thinking about the importance of clean water, and we thought if we showed them the beers of the watershed, that might be a fun way to get their attention.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• You may remember that about a year ago we reported Hill-Nelson’s new hydroelectric power plant along the Kaw was facing some serious challenges.
We reported the four generators in the power plant on the north side of the Bowersock Dam weren’t working well at all, and that combined with sparse rains had the plant producing little electricity.
Hill-Nelson, though, told me this week that the plant is in a much better position.
“July and August were the best months we’ve ever had,” Hill-Nelson said.
Hill-Nelson said she ended up making a big decision to have two of the four units removed from the plant, refurbished in Idaho and re-installed. Plus, Mother Nature has been cooperating. River flows have been just right — strong enough to turn the turbines but not so strong as to create dangerously high water levels that force the plant to shut down.
“The big questions we were facing really have been eliminated,” Hill-Nelson said. “Now it i just tweaking and having good water. We have good water right now. We’ll produce twice as much power as we did last year.”
The new power plant, along with Bowersock’s historic plant on the south side of the Kansas River, have a contract to produce power for the Kansas City, Kan., Board of Public Utilities. The power plants are an example of economic development in its truest sense: A Lawrence product is used to generate revenues that come from people who live outside the community.
While Lawrence residents ship plenty of dollars to Kansas City, it is nice to know that with at least some households in Kansas City, they send some money back to Lawrence every time they turn on a light switch.
• I may dress up as a watershed for Halloween. After all, it sounds like they have lots of beer. Whatever you dress up as, you can parade the costume around in downtown Lawrence. Leaders of Downtown Lawrence Inc. have announced that member businesses once again will be handing out candy to children on Halloween, which is Monday.
Businesses plan to begin hosting trick-or-treaters at 5 p.m. and will continue until the candy runs out. Downtown Lawrence Inc. advises businesses to buy 500 to 1,000 pieces of candy. (What? Buy a 1,000 pieces of candy? Who doesn’t have 1,000 pieces of candy lying around?)
In addition to the trick-or-treating, Watkins Museum will be hosting a scavenger hunt. The Lawrence Police Department also will be at 11th and Massachusetts with a vehicle, giveaway and fun information about the department, according to DLI.
Here’s one company that won’t be sad at all if it rains on its ribbon cutting.
The folks at the Bowersock Mills and Power Company will be celebrating the opening of its $25 million hydroelectric power plant on the north bank of the Kansas River at 4 p.m. Friday.
The public is welcome at the event, and so is rain. The company opened the plant — located near the north end of the downtown Kansas River bridges — in late November. But it wasn’t until early April that the plant started producing any meaningful amount of electricity.
“There was just no flow in the river,” said Sarah Hill-Nelson, an owner of Lawrence-based Bowersock Mills and Power Company. “We were in the middle of this epic drought, but since then, we have had good continued rains.”
Hill-Nelson even can remember the exact day the plant had enough water flowing through it to really crank up the turbines: April 10, her birthday. (Man, I need her to teach me how she blows out her candles. Thanks to my wife’s stubbornness, it appears a birthday wish is the only way I’m going to get a lifetime supply of Doritos and a new Lazy Boy recliner.)
The project, in case you have forgotten, has more than tripled the amount of electricity the Bowersock Mills and Power Company can produce on the Kansas River. The new plant can produce 4.65 megawatts of electricity, while the company’s turn-of-the century hydroelectric plant on the south bank of the Kaw produces 2.35 megawatts.
All of the power produced by the plant is sold to the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities, which uses it to power homes in the metro area and receive credit for having a green energy source as part of its portfolio. I know the fact that all of the power is shipped to Kansas City has bummed out some people. They thought it would be cool if Lawrence residents could use the green power that is produced in Lawrence. But the fact the power is shipped to Kansas City is one of the greater parts of the project, in my opinion. If Lawrence residents buy the power, we’re just trading money that already is in the community. If Kansas City residents buy the power, that is new money coming to a truly Lawrence-based company — and thus into the Lawrence community — on a daily basis. That’s economic development.
But my favorite part of the project is it gives us all a reason to root for dreary, rainy, muddy days in Manhattan on a regular basis. Bowersock officials keep a close eye on the weather in the Manhattan area because when it rains there, it will mean increased flows through the power plant in another day or so.
There is good news on that front, Hill-Nelson said. (No, Willie the Wildcat hasn't permanently gotten stuck in a mud wrestling pit, as far as I know.) She said Tuttle Creek Reservoir near Manhattan recently reached conservation pool stage, meaning the lake’s water level is basically back up to normal. As more spring rains come, Tuttle Creek will be able to release more water into the Kaw, which will benefit the power plant. But more rain would be helpful for a variety of reasons. Both Perry and Milford, two other reservoirs that help feed the Kaw, are still several feet below normal levels. (The latest readings I have show Perry down by about 2 feet, and Milford down by about 4.5 feet. Of course, I may be off. You try carrying that measuring stick around.)
As for Friday’s event, it runs from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., and will include tours of the new plant. Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism Secretary Robin Jennison will make remarks about the project, and so will an official from the national hydroelectric power association. The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce is hosting the ribbon cutting, but Hill-Nelson said the event is open to both chamber and non-chamber members. She asks that members of the public who want to attend send an RSVP to RSVP@bowersockpower.com.