Purchase photos

Russell signs letter supporting Hays





RUSSELL -- Mayor Curt Mader was ready to sign a letter of intent between Russell and Hays to develop the R9 Ranch in Edwards County as a long-term source of water.

That was before Russell officials realized Kent Steward's name was listed as the mayor of Hays.

With a quick change to reflect a changing of the guard and the ascension by Henry Schwaller IV to the position of Hays mayor, Mader moved forward and signed the letter Monday.

Russell City Council members, during a meeting Friday, unanimously agreed to let Mader sign the letter.

While the letter means the city of Russell joins with Ellis, La Crosse and now Victoria in supporting Hays' decision to pursue the development of water on the ranch south of Kinsley, it goes a step further.

That's because Hays and Russell jointly own the ranch and jointly have to agree to move ahead with the project.

Despite that agreement, it's a Hays project and will be paid for entirely by Hays, unless, at some point, Russell decides it wants to tap into the pipeline.

Victoria's decision Monday to support the project is part of an ongoing effort by Hays to get surrounding communities behind the project as a regional effort.

"I hope this is the first of many things that Hays and Russell can work on," Mader said of the letter he signed. "I'm excited."

Relations between the two communities soured in late 2012 after Russell voiced its objection to move ahead with a joint project to examine the effect of small dams along the Smoky Hill River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which would have paid for most of the project, also drew Russell's ire for refusing to release a report on the possibility of using Lake Wilson as a source of water.

But the letter of intent endorses the decision by Hays to declare the R9 Ranch as the most viable solution for the water-short community.

With that official declaration, Hays is putting its entire focus on developing the ranch as a regional solution, and Hays City Manager Toby Dougherty has set about obtaining letters of support from area communities to package with a regulatory request to change the place and use of water rights at the ranch.

Dougherty appeared last week before the Russell City Council to answer questions about the letter.

In turn, members of the Russell council floated the idea of building a pipeline to tap into the 2,000 acre feet of water Russell owns in Cedar Bluff Reservoir.

Dougherty didn't dismiss the idea, but Mader said he thinks Hays lacks the money to do both projects.

"I don't think there's one silver bullet that's going to solve this thing," Mader said of the water needs of Hays and Russell.

The R9 Ranch, he said, is being viewed as a long-term solution.

"Even under the best scenario, it's going to take 10 years before we have a drink of that water," Mader said about R9.

That's why Russell council members Friday discussed the effect of the letter of intent, to make sure it didn't hamstring Russell's ability to look elsewhere for a more immediate supply of water.

Cedar Bluff, he said, might work as a backup solution if the ranch doesn't pan out as planned.