The results of years of work and studies to determine the best water resource solutions for south central Kansas will be revealed in August 2012 when the Army Corps of Engineers presents its report to the Sunflower H2O Steering Committee.

The results of years of work and studies to determine the best water resource solutions for south central Kansas will be revealed in August 2012 when the Army Corps of Engineers presents its report to the Sunflower H2O Steering Committee.

A kickoff meeting Tuesday in Medicine Lodge, with representatives from Sunflower H2O, the Corps, Kansas Water Office, C.H. Guernsey and Company engineers-architects-consultants and Bartlett & West engineers, updated Sunflower on the next steps and deadlines for report completion.

Mike Mayberry, chair of Sunflower H2O steering committee that will use the information to determine what the area needs including the possibility of a new reservoir, said it is important to have a plan early because it takes years to develop an alternate water source.

If a reservoir is the solution for water resources, three sites are under consideration: Elm Creek; Turkey Creek; Sandy Creek. Of these three sites Elm Creek looks good but much has to be done before making any decision on a reservoir — or even if a reservoir is the best answer.

“Nothing is off the table,” said Ken Senour, Guernsey senior vice president.

The Guernsey report to the Corps of Engineers is scheduled for completion March 31, 2012 followed by a 15-day comment period. The recreational analysis is due April 2012. All reports will go to the Army Corps of Engineers and their recommendation is due August 2012, said Bryan Taylor, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project manager.

Once a decision is made, Sunflower has to seek a permit to proceed and that includes some preliminary engineering, environmental studies and a cost estimate. Finding funding may be difficult.

“Obviously fund raising is a big deal,” Senour said.

The Corps report will draw from five sources of information: Needs Assessment from Kansas Water Office; Ground water study from Guernsey: Surface water study from Guernsey; Recreational analysis; Cost analysis.

From these five reports the Army Corps of Engineers will provide what they believe is the best water resource option and where it would be best located. It is not a go ahead to start a project.

“We’re not authorizing any project,” Taylor said. “This is just to help you better manage your water resources.”

Guernsey evaluated moving water in a pipeline from one reservoir to another in Oklahoma and determined it was too expensive for this area and not viable, Senour said.

Fatal flaws, elements in an area that are deal killers for construction of a reservoir, have to be considered. Things like endangered species, cultural sites, high voltage power lines, wetlands, railroad lines, oil fields and pipelines can all be fatal flaws but some can be mitigated. 

Jeff Shamburg, of Bartlett & West, said they are looking for fatal flaws, like center pivots and wind turbines, as they do their research that includes ground water availability. The impact downstream will also be considered.

The Needs Assessment that revealed the existing conditions in the area and what would be needed in the future was a valuable portion of this process. It required the work of many people within Sunflower H2O, said Margaret Fast, Kansas Water Office planning manager.

Kansas Rural Water Association and KWO gathered water use information from the area over the past 10 years from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and Oklahoma Water Resource Board including population and water rights information.

The Needs Assessment revealed that water demand was holding steady or decreasing in some areas. A steady demand means this study is being done early and not during a critical water needs time.

“It’s a good time to not have serious water issues right now,” Fast said.

The KWO has spoken with the Kansas Legislature about a single use lake in the area. The priority issue for a lake is water supply then flood control and finally recreation. The current moisture situation, 100 of the 105 counties have some drought level, has made the water supply need even more important.

“We’re in a serious drought,” Fast said.

Oil and gas development is also part of the Needs Assessment. The impact of fracking to get more product out of the ground could impact water availability because of the high amount of water necessary for fracking.

However, at the present time water is available and Sunflower members are not facing water supply constraints or shortages in the foreseeable future, Fast said.

Another water issue is declining population. People still need water in a population shift.

“Just because population may go down doesn’t mean they don’t need a water supply,” Fast said.

Increasing nitrate levels are also a concern and continue to be an issue in Pratt, Harper, Anthony and Argonia, although Pratt’s nitrate concerns are minimal.