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City debates water saving measures

3/21/2014

By MATTHEW KENWRIGHT

mkenwright@dailynews.net

Far-reaching water conservation measures were debated Thursday during the Hays City Commission's work session.

The changes proposed expanding the city's drought response plan, taking a step toward regulating private wells, updating irrigation rules and adopting a more efficient plumbing code.

No residence would be able to install a new irrigation system covering more than 2,000 square feet of cool season grass, and 5,000 square feet would be the total area of irrigated turf.

For all properties, the maximum irrigated area would be 10,000 square feet.

Commercial properties installing new irrigation system must have at least 30 percent of the land xeriscaped. No more than 30 percent or 2,000-square feet could be cool season turf.

Guy Riedel, owner of CCR Landscaping, said xeriscaping will be a costly venture because of the expense of transporting materials and excavating the land.

"The rock is going to be way more expensive," Riedel said. "Homeowners are going to be looking at $30,000 landscape jobs turning into 50 to 60."

Riedel questioned the 2,000-square-foot rule, and he said there are efficient irrigation systems capable of using less water.

Toby Dougherty, Hays city manager, said the problem is people want their unnatural grass to survive in an ill-suited environment, not irrigation systems.

"You're not changing the culture because you're still putting blue grass yards out there, and that's going to be the status," he said. "When our new development is blue grass and fescue, that's where it's going, and everybody wants to be like that."

Lawn maintenance is a factor in driving the need for the city to explore tapping the R9 Ranch in Edwards County for water, Dougherty said.

"The reality is, if we weren't putting so much water down on lawns, we might not be taking that long look at a $65 million project for water," he said.

The Kansas Department of Agriculture's Division of Water Resources recommended Hays pass an ordinance giving the city the power to pursue jurisdiction over private wells.

The change would allow the city to petition the state for the ability to make private wells comply with drought measures during water warning/emergency stages.

A ban on issuing permits for newly seeded/sodded lawns during the water warning stage and giving the commission power to adopt additional emergency water rates during the water emergency stage were other ideas.

Nicholas Willis, interim assistant director of utilities, presented proposed changes for commercial irrigation.

New businesses with permanent irrigation systems would need to install dedicated irrigation meters, multi-family properties' water bills would more closely resemble residential billing and a second conservation tier would be created for sites using drinking water to irrigate without using a separate irrigation meter. Customers could install a meter to avoid the new rate.

A proposal to implement stricter plumbing codes was considered for new construction and remodel projects. Under the changes, water fixtures would be 20 percent more efficient than federal standards.

Commissioner Ron Mellick asked staff to research and clarify what type of renovations would force homeowners to replace or move their water heaters.

Mayor Kent Steward and Vice Mayor Henry Schwaller IV did not attend the session.

Also on the agenda:

* Overland Property Group LLC petitioned the commission to grant public support for the group as it seeks tax credits to build affordable housing on East 22nd Street.

* Two bids for the city's broker and risk management services were considered. The current provider, Insurance Planning Inc., submitted a more expensive proposal than Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

* Nex-Tech, provider of communication services for the Bickle/Schmidt Sports Complex, has asked the city to let it transfer operations of the facility's website to The News Publishing Company, owner of The Hays Daily News.