Monday, December 22, 2014

Low Levels: Water officials stress conservation efforts

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 1/25/2013

Something as commonplace as diners receiving a glass of water with their menus could become taboo at Ottawa restaurants.

That’s why representatives of two of the largest water suppliers in the Ottawa area are urging residents to conserve water now before a state water warning has to be put into effect.

Something as commonplace as diners receiving a glass of water with their menus could become taboo at Ottawa restaurants.

That’s why representatives of two of the largest water suppliers in the Ottawa area are urging residents to conserve water now before a state water warning has to be put into effect.

The Kansas Water Office has not issued a “water warning” stage that would trigger steps by the City of Ottawa to curtail water use, Jim Bradley, the city’s utilities director, said.

“The most likely trigger that would warrant this [water warning] move is notification from the KWO in regard to the Pomona and Melvern lake levels,” Bradley said. “We do not anticipate any additional action from the KWO until early to mid-February.”

To the outsider, a quick glance at the numbers for the municipal storage pools at Pomona and Melvern lakes — which Ottawa and several other water suppliers rely on ­— look to be in good shape. As of Dec. 31, the state water office was reporting 88 percent of storage remained in Pomona’s municipal pool and 90 percent in Melvern’s municipal pool.

But Bradley said those numbers are not too comforting.

“That’s the lowest I’ve seen in the 30 years I’ve lived here,” he said.

If the Kansas Water Office does issue a water warning, the city’s goal under its conservation plan would be to reduce peak demands by 20 percent, as well as reduce overall weekly consumption by 10 percent, according to the city’s conservation plan.

“That would be difficult to do at this time of year,” Bradley said. “Mostly because all of the regulatory actions pertain to water use in the spring and summer — not the winter.”

With the exception of No. 8, the 10 regulatory items — which residents would be obligated to comply with under the city’s conservation plan — restrict summertime water use.

No. 8 on the list states: “All restaurants are prohibited from serving water to their customers, except when specifically requested by the customer.”

“We would implement No. 8 right away,” Bradley said.

Others on the list range from restricting the watering of lawns, gardens and golf fairways to limiting the washing of vehicles and prohibiting the use of ornamental water fountains.

Bradley said obviously many of those restrictions wouldn’t be applicable in the dead of winter.

The silver lining right now might be that Ottawa residents use considerably less water in the winter than they do during the hot summer months, according to the city utility department’s numbers.

In December, Ottawa’s effluent water use was 1.428 million gallons per day, about the same as last December. That’s about 1.5 million gallons per day less than during the peak summer month of July, when the city’s water use averaged 2.993 million gallons per day, the city utilities department reported.

The city’s water supply is surface water drawn from the Marais des Cygnes River. Pomona and Melvern lake reservoirs are the major storage reservoirs upstream from Ottawa. Ottawa’s treatment plant is rated at 5.58 million gallons per day, and average daily use is about 1.6 million gallons, according to utility department numbers.

While there may not be an immediate concern to implement mandatory water restrictions, Bradley said he’s hopeful citizens will start conserving water now.

“If residents conserve now, we possibly can avoid entering a water warning stage later,” Bradley said.

To assist Ottawa residents in conserving water, the City of Ottawa plans to issue regular media releases on current conditions, as well as provide water conservation tips on a weekly basis, Bradley said.

The city has placed a link to its water conservation plan on its Facebook page and will provide conservation tips on utility bills. The conservation plan also can be viewed on the city’s website:

The City of Ottawa also is the main water supplier for Franklin County Rural Water Districts No. 1,  No. 2 and No. 4.

RWD No. 1 serves a region north of Ottawa, RWD No. 2 serves residents to the south an east of Ottawa, including Princeton, and RWD No. 4 serves an area south and west of Ottawa, Bradley said.

Ottawa supplies water to about 15,000 residents — about 60 percent of the county’s population of 25,992 people, based on 2010 U.S. Census figures.

“Ottawa supplies 60 percent of the water for the whole county, so when they get in trouble, 60 percent of the water users in Franklin County are in trouble,” Don Sottlemire, president of Lake Region Resource Conservation and Development, said.

Lake Region RCD, which includes Franklin, Miami, Linn, Osage, Coffey and Anderson counties, strives for “balancing economic development and management of natural resources,” in that six-county region, according to Lake Region’s website:

Sottlemire, who also is president of the state board presiding over Kansas’ 10 Resource Conservation and Development regions, said he wrote a letter to Gov. Sam Brownback last week offering his organization’s services in studying the best solutions to combat the drought that is plaguing Kansas, with all 105 counties now declared federal disaster areas.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated 88 Kansas counties as primary disaster areas and 16 Kansas counties as contiguous disaster areas, making qualified farmers and ranchers in designated counties eligible for low-interest emergency loans through the USDA Farm Service Agency. Doniphan County, in far Northeast Kansas, was the only Kansas county that did not receive a federal disaster declaration initially, but that has since changed because Doniphan County is contiguous with Andrew County, Mo., which has been declared a primary disaster area, according to a USDA news release.

“We are entering the third consecutive year of a severe drought,” Gov. Sam Brownback said in a Jan. 9 statement. “While we cannot make it rain, it is imperative for everyone to continue working together to deliver relief and assistance to drought-stricken farmers and ranchers.”

In late December, Brownback issued a statement urging all Kansans to conserve water.

Stottlemire said the situation has become dire, not only for crops and livestock, but also for firefighting capabilities in rural areas.

“I was talking with some rural firefighters association members, and they said dry hydrants used in ponds and lakes are now pretty much unusable because the water levels have dropped below the outlet pipes,” Stottlemire, who also is a member of the Franklin County Board of Commissioners, said.

Dry hydrants allow firefighters, with permission from landowners, to access water from ponds and lakes to refill their tanker trucks, rather than having to return to their base operations to replenish their water supplies.

Stottlemire said Alan Radcliffe, Franklin County’s emergency management director, has been gathering information about the drought and will make a presentation to the Lake Region board at its Feb. 5 meeting.

“We have been concerned with taking care of our water supply for many years, but we’ve never had to look at what happens if we have no water supply,” Sottlemire said. “Alan is researching this right now. He has always had to deal with too much of everything — too much wind, too much snow, too much water, but he’s never had to deal with a case of not having enough water.”

Sottlemire said some smaller communities within the Lake Region’s six-county area — Fontana, Colony and Kincaid — are running short on water. He said the drought is plaguing rural communities across the state.

One possibility might be to establish emergency connections between abutting rural water districts that would allow a district that is short on water to tap into the other one’s water supply in an emergency, Sottlemire said.

“It would be similar to interlocal agreements that are established between firefighting districts,” he said. “Often these water districts are right across the road from each other. That’s just one idea that’s being discussed.”

Public Wholesale Water Supply District 12, with its water plant based at Melvern Lake, is another major water supplier in the region, serving some areas of western Franklin County, including the cities of Williamsburg and Pomona.

“The Corps of Engineers hasn’t said anything to us so far about having to conserve water — our intake pipes are down far enough that the lake would have to get pretty low for us to be in danger,” Connie Ralph, district No. 12 manager, said.

The public wholesale district, which also supplies water to Lyndon, Melvern, Quenemo, Waverly, Lebo, and Osage County Rural Water District No. 4, Coffey County Rural Water District No. 3 and Anderson County Rural Water District No. 4, serves more than 9,000 people.

Combined, the Melvern-based wholesale district and the City of Ottawa serve about 25,000 people in the region.

Ralph said she plans to send out information to customers in the next billing cycle about conserving water.

“Conservation often is just taking a common sense approach to how you use water,” Ralph said.

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