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State agrees to water release

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

The Kansas Water Office has announced it will begin releasing water from Cedar Bluff Reservoir beginning Monday to help recharge declining Hays water wells along the Smoky Hill River near Schoenchen.

Tuesday's announcement comes nearly a week after area and state water officials toured the Smoky Hill River from the Cedar Bluff dam down to the Hays and Russell wellfields at Schoenchen and Pfeifer.

The release will use virtually all of the 1,247 acre-feet of water left in an artificial recharge pool, or approximately 406 million gallons.

Hays called for the release in mid-December, asking for water to be sent down the Smoky Hill River to recharge its wells.

Unlike earlier releases, the city of Russell isn't joining the request for water, instead pursuing other water supplies near its Pfeifer wellfield. Russell owns water in Cedar Bluff and has the ability to call for the release of up to 2,000 acre-feet of water.

"As of now, our intent is to monitor the release and then make a decision based on our observations of the release," Russell City Manager Jon Quinday said in an email.

Russell and Hays joined together in 2006, when 3,051 acre-feet of water was released. That release brought down the level of the lake by more than a foot.

Undaunted, Hays City Manager Toby Dougherty is confident Hays wells will receive a boost from the release.

"We had our engineers look at it," he said. "They think we're going to get a significant recharge out of this release."

While they were reluctant to say just how much, Dougherty said he is hopeful anywhere from 400 to 800 acre-feet might reach the Schoenchen wells, while the rest of the water will "grease the skids" for any rain that might be received this fall.

Dougherty said he was pushing for the release to be made prior to March 1 to beat trees and vegetation coming out of dormancy and tapping into a fresh supply of water in the river.

While the Kansas Water Office announcement doesn't contain many details about the upcoming water release, it does suggest conditions are worse now than in 2006.

"There was consensus among those on the recent tour who witnessed the 2006 release," Streeter said, that "current overall river conditions are drier than when the previous release was made."

Cedar Bluff supporter Bill Scott, who was invited to go along on the tour, agrees the riverbed is drier.

That's going to make it difficult to recharge, he said.

Scott voiced concerns about what the release will do to the lake, suggesting it will go down more than the anticipated 4 inches.

In 2005, he said, a smaller release lowered the water level in the lake by almost 5 inches.

"The lake at that time was 12 feet higher than at this time," Scott said.

Currently, Cedar Bluff is nearly 22 feet below its designed operating level.

The KWO announcement also didn't detail the rate of release from the lake, something that's been at the heart of the discussions because of the relatively small amount of water that's available.

For the first 24 hours, water will be pouring out of the lake at 250 cubic feet per second -- approximately 21 million gallons a day. The release will slow to 150 cubic feet per second on the second day and then drop down to 50 cfs for the next four days.

In 2006, the releases stood at 50 cfs for 14 days straight, the water creeping downstream and taking more than two weeks to reach the Hays wellfield.