The cities of Hays and Russell have been dealing with water issues for 70 years. We’re too far east to tap the Ogallala Aquifer and too far west for reliable surface water. Recurring drought has long been a fact of life. We are statewide leaders in water conservation, but we’re hitting the limits of what we can achieve. We need a sustainable water supply for the future.
A growing economy for the Hays/Russell region benefits the entire state. That encompasses agriculture, oil, retail, entertainment, healthcare and education. Water scarcity could cause a serious loss of population and industry. That would hurt our state as well as our region.
Dry spells and drought routinely put Northwest Kansas under stress. We’re used to that and have for years carefully managed our resources. Our residents use low-flow showerheads and toilets as well as high-efficiency washing machines. We have the only cash-for-grass program in the state and reuse 20% of our effluent on our golf course and sports complex. Those efforts make a real difference. We conserve every drop, every day, not just in dry years.
Conservation as a way of life has not been easy. We realized early on, that we needed to adopt conservation efforts of those in the desert Southwest. We are the only communities in Kansas that have taken these measures. In fact, for many years our communities have been the leaders in conservation efforts east of the Rocky Mountains and north of Texas. No one else in Kansas can touch our 90 GPD usage. We are a model for water efficiency.
Hays and Russell have owned the R9 Ranch in Edwards County since 1995. With it came 7,647 acre-feet of water rights, designated for irrigation. The cities are following the regulatory process to convert the water to municipal use.
This is being done in an environmentally friendly way. Hays and Russell have voluntarily agreed to use the water sustainably. This means that the aquifer will be as viable in 50 years as it is today.
Factoring in how much irrigation water returned to the aquifer reduces the amount of available water to 6,756 acre-feet. To ensure sustainable use, Hays and Russell have agreed to reduce their rights by 30%, to 4,800 acre-feet. Both cities together only use 3,000 acre-feet of water a year, so it is easy to see why this offers a long-term solution.
This change in usage – from agricultural to municipal – actually preserves water in the aquifer. Less water will come out of the ground than it has for irrigation. Extensive modeling shows the ranch will be just as viable 50 years from now. This is not just good news for our region today. It preserves resources for future generations.
Hays and Russell are working to obtain final approvals to pipe water from their ranch to their communities. This represents a considerable investment in western Kansas – and the future.
Hays and Russell are making unprecedented plans to make the 6,700-acre R9 Ranch available for public use. The goal: a pristine and unique sandhill prairie environment, home to cottonwood, elm, cedar and osage orange trees, and to dove, pheasant, quail, turkey and deer. Hays and Russell phased out farming on the property in 2013 and seeded the land to convert it back to native grasses. Watch for more news in the future.
Hays and Russell are committed to ongoing stewardship of our natural resources. We’re also doing all we can to wisely plan. The future holds great promise.
Visit KansasRunsOnWater.org to learn more about our State’s water and conservation efforts.Learn More