By Gene Meyer | Kansas Reporter
GARDNER — Nine northeastern Kansas communities and rural water districts struck an unusual deal with the state this week.
The group aspect makes it unique. The deal involves buying annually as much as 5 billion gallons of water that Kansas controls in federal reservoirs.
The deal is significant because the new approach makes it easier to assure sufficient water will be available to meet all the communities’ projected needs for 40 years, said Tracy Streeter, director of the Kansas Water Office.
The Water Office manages and sells state-controlled water stored in federal reservoirs. Kansas is the only state that sells water through a central office; others let local communities negotiate their own deals.
“I don’t know if this will be a model for future marketing agreements, but I hope it is,” Streeter said. “It’s easier for us to manage, and I hope it will be better for them.”
Previously, when cities, rural water districts or other potential customers sought water from Kansas individually, applicants often overstated their projected needs, said Allan Soetaert, manager of Johnson County Water District 7, one of the participants in the group buy.
“We’ve all done it,” Soetaert said.
But this time around, the buyers faced a dilemma.
Water Office engineers calculated in 2008, when negotiations on the new contract began, that Hillsdale Lake contained too little water to meet the total demands collectively projected for the communities over the next 40 years.
“When we are contracting for the last drop of water in the bucket, we take this very seriously,” said Dennis Schwartz of Tecumseh, a member of the Kansas Water Authority. The authority is a gubernatorial-appointed advisory panel that helps set policy carried out by the Water Office.
The buyers, then, formed a coalition — the Hillsdale Area Water Cooperative — essentially to negotiate their individual requests among themselves before approaching the state with a total for the group.
“And it worked,” Soetaert said. “We got all those little extra calculations out of there and came up with a more realistic figure.”
Under the agreement signed Tuesday, the cooperative members — Gardner, Edgerton Spring Hill and Wellsville, plus five rural water districts in Johnson, Miami and Franklin counties — agree to buy as much as 5.3 billion gallons of water annually from state supplies in Hillsdale Lake for a bit more than $1.9 million. The contract requires them to but at least $635,000 worth of water annually. Each city or water district then gets its predetermined share of that total, with amounts and prices adjusted periodically.