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Proposal: $6 million rural water plant near Lawrence

Plans for a $6 million water plant near Lawrence are taking another big step forward, but no, it is not a sign that my wife actually has talked me into watering my lawn.

Instead, work is progressing on the area's newest public wholesale water supply district. As we previously reported, Douglas County Rural Water District No. 5 and Osage County Rural Water District No. 5 have joined forces to create a new district that will provide treated water to customers in both districts.

The district has applied for a conditional use permit that will clear the way for construction to begin on 28 acres about a quarter-mile east of the intersection of East 1750 and North 1500 roads. I'll save you the time of unfolding your Douglas County map: That's in the Kansas River valley between Lawrence and Eudora.

The site is right next to the Kaw, but the plant will use ground water wells rather than taking the water directly from the river. Larry Wray, administrator for the wholesale water district and for Douglas County RWD No. 5, said testing on the wells has begun. Those tests will tell plant officials specifically what type of treatment equipment will be needed in the plant.

Although the district is getting its permits in order, construction is not imminent. Design work will take a while, Wray said, and construction likely would not start before late 2014. In addition to the plant, design work has to be done for about a 30-mile piping system to take the water from eastern Douglas County all the way into western Osage County. That distribution system is expected to run about $10 million, Wray said. He hopes to have the plant and system operational in 2016.

Plans call for the plant to have a production capacity of about 1 million gallons per day, but it could be expanded fairly easily to about 2.5 million gallons per day. The site is large enough to accommodate a significantly larger plant than that, though.

"We have room to expand if somebody else pops up who wants water," Wray said.

At the moment, though, it is just the two rural water districts that have signed on to buy water from the plant. For a while, it looked like the plant may be a significant competitor to the city of Lawrence, which sells treated water to a variety of rural water districts and to Baldwin City. Baldwin City's long-term water contract with Lawrence was nearing its end as the plant was being discussed. But Baldwin City and Lawrence officials earlier this year reached a new deal for Lawrence to continue supplying Baldwin City.

But who knows what twists and turns the world of water will take in this region over the next decade. The new plant will further cement Douglas County's standing as a fairly water-rich county, with supplies coming from Clinton Lake, the Kansas River and the underground wells it feeds.

Maybe someday, there actually will be enough water in Douglas County to keep my lawn green. No, I doubt it.

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