Purchase photos

Dougherty asks for support in water search

3/19/2014

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

ELLIS -- Toby Dougherty got the chance to see city government at work from the other side of the table.

Dougherty, the city manager of Hays, was greeted warmly Monday by members of the Ellis City Council, but they asked for a bit of time to review a letter of support he's hoping Ellis will sign.

While the letter imposes no obligation, it's a showing of support that, among others, will accompany a request from the city of Hays to change the place and use of water from the R9 Ranch in Edwards County.

While Ellis City Council President Jolene Niernberger said she personally supports the city's quest to tap into the ranch, she asked for a bit of time to review the letter.

"I don't have a problem doing this," she said.

"Like you say Toby, we're all in this together," Councilman John Walz said.

Dougherty said there's no rush to sign the letter.

He also said he'll soon be approaching the cities of Victoria and Russell, as well as rural water districts in the area for similar letters of support.

Accompanied by Hays city commissioners Shaun Musil and Ron Mellick, Dougherty offered background on the city's efforts and decision to pursue obtaining water from the city-owned ranch south of Kinsley.

"We are in the beginning stages of development," he said. "We're developing the application to be filed right now."

That application, to be filed with the Division of Water Resources, will ask the state agency to approve a change in the place and use of water, from irrigated land on the ranch to drinking water for residents of Hays.

"The city is looking at this as a long-term, 75 to 100 years, water solution," Dougherty told council members. "And we are looking at it as a regional option."

Water from the ranch will exceed what Hays currently needs, and as a result, water could be available to communities such as Ellis and Victoria -- both currently in the tightest stages of water conservation.

But it's going to be an expensive proposition.

"We're looking at $65 million right now," he said of what it might cost to get water from the ranch to Hays.

There are other sources perhaps closer to Hays, he said, but they are equally as expensive or face even more stringent regulatory burdens.

Council members wanted to know more about the project, and what the barriers might be.

Dougherty said tapping into the ranch would trigger the never-before-used water transfer act, which will require formal hearings.

"There are going to be a lot of interested players watching this," he said. "Probably for and against."

As for the amount of water available, he said, there's 8,000 acre feet of water allocated to the ranch.

Hays won't have access to that much, but it could be more than 5,000 acre feet. Currently, Hays uses approximately 2,000 acre feet of water.

"It's a sustainable yield," Dougherty said of the water available from the ranch. "That is one part of the Ogallala that is in better shape now than it was 10 years ago."

The ranch also adjoins the Arkansas River.