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Commission votes to end water warning

7/11/2014

By MATTHEW KENWRIGHT

mkenwright@dailynews.net

The Hays City Commission voted 3-2 Thursday to reduce the water warning to a water watch.

City staff explained the levels in city wells are above the water watch line.

The data actually supports going beyond a simple downgrade and could justify moving out of the drought response plan, said Toby Dougherty, Hays city manager.

The possibility was "too big of a step" to recommend, however, he said.

"We by no means think the drought is anywhere near over, but our triggers say we should not be in water warning," he said.

The water warning included bans on outdoor watering from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., permits for newly seeded/sodded lawns, benefit car washes and washing of hard surfaces. Connecting new irrigation lawn meters/upsizing of meters and new connections to the potable water system outside city limits also were prohibited. The conservation tier for water rates was raised for excess water use.

There is still no watering between noon to 7 p.m., and a second conservation tier is still in place. Permits for warm season grass are free until August 1, but cool season permits are not available at this time. Water still cannot escape from properties. City staff will continue reduced irrigation at its facilities.

Commissioners Kent Steward and Shaun Musil cast the dissenting votes.

Musil argued public opinion supported keeping some of the water regulations.

"I've never had where, you know, we put in regulations and people want to keep them on, which I think is awesome for the community," he said. "Wow, I think I'm wrong on this -- I can't vote to take us out of a water warning, just because it's what the community wants. And that's how I'll be voting."

Steward said the move might send mixed messages about the city's conservation efforts. He suggested keeping the restrictions and re-evaluating the water supply later.

"I think this is inside baseball, and we're losing sight of the most important thing, which is public perception, and I think all we're going to do is send a bad message," Steward said.

"I would much prefer -- just as in an attempt to be prudent we made a good decision to not follow the plan exactly and anticipate a little bit and go into the warning early -- I would much rather see us stay in the warning through the rest of this growing season and then, at the end of that, if the triggers are still where they are, then let's just remove it all together."

Dougherty clarified the drought response plan allows the city to change stages preemptively if circumstances warrant.

Commissioner Eber Phelps said scaling back the rules would allow lawn owners to install warm-season grass. Education efforts also have led to more people adopting water-efficient showerheads and toilets.

Commissioner Ron Mellick said the water conservation plan has worked, but progress is slow.

"We all know that it's a long-term haul, and we'll slowly back out of it, and I'll think we'll be OK," he said.

Mayor Henry Schwaller IV said the plan should be followed to demonstrate diligence as the city pursues a long-term water source.

"If you really hold firm that we should stay in conservation, in water warning, you're going to have a hard time justifying using a water source that has three times the water in a year that we use," Schwaller said. "You're going to have a hard time justifying tapping any new well field if we continue to use like misers."

The mayor said he was not advocating for wasting water.

Other business on the agenda:

* Commissioners voted 4-1 to hire an engineering design firm for the reconstruction of 13th from Main to Milner. The street is failing, according to city staff.

Schwaller said he voted no because the $95,000 undertaking included the cost of getting estimates on alternate projects he would not want to fund even if the city had the money.

* Commissioners voted 3-2 to adopt an ordinance concerning draining pools and hot tubs onto unpaved alleys and right-of-ways. The new measure exempts draining from the ban on water runoff from property, but it mandates the water must travel into storm/sanitary sewers or impervious curb frontage. A $250 fine was approved because water can damage the alleys' integrity.

Schwaller and Musil voted against the proposal.

Musil said back flush from pools can drain a small amount of water into an unpaved alley, and pools from Walmart can send water into the paths. Both instances could be subject to the fine.

Schwaller said the ordinance is "onerous" and the city could threaten civil action to discourage the practice.

Henry Hartman, owner of Kleerwater Inc., protested the ordinance. Regarding a photo of a flooded alley the commission considered when debating the measure, Hartman said he never has seen that scale of damage in 40 years of experience.

"You should not fine people, mainly people that can afford (pools). Attorneys, doctors, businessmen that want their children to enjoy life," Hartman said. "They want their grandchildren to enjoy life. These people put a lot of money into the economy, and by God, I'm going to stand up for them."

* Commissioners approved a 2-percent bonus for the Hays Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 48 Inc. for 2015.

* The commission recognized Peter Shimondle for taking ownership of the Best Western Butterfield Inn, 1010 E. 41st in Hays.

* Dougherty said a possible partnership with Union Pacific to build a pavilion and the Core2Campus path from Fort Hays State University to downtown has stalled. Concepts were drawn, but city staff has been unable to restore communication with the company.