Hays City Manager: Water Sources Stressed, but Holding Up

City Manager Toby Dougherty had an update on the water situation in the City of Hays…

In Western Kansas there are a few certainties.  One certainty is that in the summer it will get hot and dry.  This year is abnormally hotter and drier than most and everyone is feeling the impacts.  Pastures are brown, crops are withering, and people’s yards and gardens are struggling to survive.  Many have wondered how the drought has impacted the City of Hays and its ability to provide water to its citizens.

The City of Hays has three sources of water.  The two major sources are wellfields located along the Smoky Hill River and along Big Creek.  A smaller wellfield is located southwest of town taps in to the Dakota aquifer.  The City has created a very detailed wellfield operation plan and pumps water from these wellfields in a manner that ensures the most efficient usage.

At this time our sources are stressed, but holding up.  The Big Creek wellfield has seen the biggest impact of the drought.  A few years ago the City reconfigured the Smoky Hill wellfield in order to make it more drought-resistant.  Those improvements have paid off and that wellfield has held up quite well during this extended dry period.

Many people have noticed other cities implementing water restrictions as a reaction to the drought and have wondered if Hays is going to do the same.  We have water conservation measures in our water plan, but do not have any short term plans to implement them.  In reality the day-to-day attitude regarding water in the City of Hays is the same as other cities phase one or two water warnings.  As a city we simply operate with a much greater awareness than most of how we utilize water.

Several years ago the City made a concerted effort to implement water conservation measures city-wide.  Water saving fixtures were promoted, and incentivized, and required as part of our building code.  Water rates were restructured, and bans were placed on outdoor watering during certain times of the day.  Residents were educated on the benefits of conservation.

The result is that Hays is the top city in the State of Kansas when it comes to water conservation.  Residents of Hays consume 95 gallons of water per capita per day.  As a comparison, residents of Garden City consume 190 gallons.  Dodge City residents consume 203 gallons and Goodland residents consume 302 gallons per capita per day.  Hays also performs well when measured against desert cities that are very innovative in their water savings.  Las Vegas consumes 165 gallons per capita per day and Tucson consumed 151.

Water conservation is part of our culture in Hays.  The City of Hays has provided over $150,000 for low-flow toilets, and $80,000 for high-efficiency washing machine rebates.  The City has given away over 8,000 low-flow shower heads.  Kansas State University has distributed rain barrels at little or no cost to our residents.  At this time the City irrigates several ball fields, soccer fields, the Bickle/Schmidt Sports Complex, and the Fort Hays Municipal Golf Course with effluent water.  People have learned that removing a portion of their irrigated yard and replacing it with xeriscaping will have a substantial impact on their water usage.  People are also migrating back to warm season grasses such as buffalo and bermuda as they require substantially less water.

In summation, the City of Hays is able to provide water to its residents, even during this drought.  But we depend on our residents to be prudent with that water.  I am confident our positive attitude towards water conservation will serve us well until this drought breaks.

  • wondering

    How long will Hays have water running out of the TAP if it doesn’t rain and the heat stays? Is our supply – based upon current conditions – one month? two months? a year? Probably an impossible question to answer – but it sure is a concern around Hays and Western Kansas!