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City ponders warning

2/26/2014

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

The Hays City Commission will be asked Thursday to approve an ordinance moving the city into the second phase of the drought response plan.

Doing so wouldn't entirely ban outside water use. When and how water can be used outside would be restricted, and the cost of water for some residents will increase.

While the triggers laid out in the city's water conservation plan haven't been met yet, Hays City Manager Toby Dougherty said he hopes the "preemptive" request for warning status best serves both the city and its residents.

That's because he's hoping the early notice will let people either looking to plant lawns or big gardens adjust their plans.

Based on existing conditions, Dougherty said the city expects to meet those pre-set triggers by mid- to late summer.

The projections are based on an expectation of relatively normal conditions, he said. A wet spring could delay meeting those triggers.

"If we have another 2012, then it could be a lot quicker," Dougherty said.

Moving into the warning phase -- the second of three phases -- won't entirely prohibit the use of water outside, but it will put some limits on it, for the city itself and for residents.

In the water warning, outside use will not be allowed from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Dougherty said the city will restrict its outside use, watering just enough to keep grass alive.

Any flower plantings will use only effluent water.

The goal of the warning stage, according to the city's drought response plan, is to reduce peak demands by 30 percent and weekly consumption by 20 percent.

Conditions in city wellfields tapping into the Smoky Hill River and Big Creek haven't improved much during the winter.

"The Smoky is very slowly and steadily declining," Doughtery said, adding Big Creek wells have remained flat.

But he's concerned as soon as spring arrives and trees along either river system start taking up water, the trend will be downward.

Likely, Dougherty said, it will be the Smoky Hill River that first meets the trigger that automatically would move the city into the warning phase.

"They're very close on the Smoky," Dougherty said.

Releases from Cedar Bluff Reservoir are off the table for this year, he said.

"Cedar Bluff essentially bought us a year," Dougherty said of water that was released in early 2013, the amount of water in wellfields at Schoenchen as well as Russell's wellfield near Pfeifer.

Without the release from Cedar Bluff, he said, the city already would have moved into the water warning phase that's being sought.

For some Hays residents, the move into the water warning also could mean higher water bills.

Residents using more than 1,000 cubic feet of water per month in excess of their base winter rate will pay a higher fee than normal.

The so-called conservation tier 2 use under a water warning or emergency increases from $7.42 for every 750 gallons to $10.30.

But Dougherty said most residences won't pay any more than normal. Only approximately 20 percent of the homes in Hays will pay the higher water rate, he said.