Salina, others might form group to buy more water

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SALINA, Kan. (AP) — The city of Salina and other water users are considering forming a group to buy additional storage at Kanopolis Reservoir.

Salina city commissioners decided during a study session Monday that the city should pursue creating a Lower Smoky Hill Water Supply Access District with other cities, industries and farmers that get water from the Smoky Hill River.

The Kansas Legislature approved creation of the district in 2011 and detailed regulations were finished last August but the group has not been formed, The Salina Journal reported (http://bit.ly/1k0Te6e ).

Discussion about forming the group started after water flow in the river dropped to zero during the summer of 2006, said Martha Tasker, Salina's director of utilities. That experience led to more cooperation, including weekly conference calls in the summer of 2012 to coordinate water usage between irrigators and the city.

"The point is for all of us to be involved in allocating the river flow," said City Manager Jason Gage. "If we know what's going on, what the irrigators are doing, we can work together. Salina's water rights are senior to most, and if we wanted to, we could be mean about it. We could cut off the irrigators (during droughts). But farmers are part of our economy, part of Kansas."

Purchasing storage in the lake differs from exercising traditional water rights, which apply to natural flow in a river and are allocated based on when the right was established. By buying storage in the lake, the city and others in the district could have water sent to them during droughts, superseding even those with older water rights.

Tasker estimated the city could pay about $2.7 million to buy 5,028 acre-feet of storage, which is the same amount the current water right allows the city to take from the river each year. It would be a one-time fee that would allow city access to the water for the remaining life of the Kanopolis Reservoir, which is estimated at 40 years.

Earl Lewis, assistant director of the Kansas Water Office, said the fee would go to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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Information from: The Salina (Kan.) Journal, http://www.salina.com

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