By TREVOR GRAFF
KHI News Service
TOPEKA — Proposed legislation that would add new fees to municipal water bills drew varied opposition during a hearing today in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
But Rep. Tom Sloan, the Lawrence Republican who sponsored the bill, said it would allow the state to acquire more water storage rights in the federal reservoirs managed by the U.S. Corps of Engineers.
“Most of our reservoirs are 50 and 60 years old,” Sloan said. “We have not been taking care of them. Part of the reason that the language is in this bill is to allow us to acquire water storage capacity that we have options on is so we manage the water not the Corps.”
House Bill 2439 would create a 10-cent per 1,000-gallon fee on sale of water by municipal utilities. The fee would increase to 18 cents per 1,000 gallons in three years.
It would raise more than $9.3 million per year, which also could fund efforts to control or remove silt from the reservoirs, which have been filling in with sediment as they age.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers grants the state an option to purchase water storage in Kansas reservoirs.
The measure drew opposition from the Kansas Livestock Association, the Kansas Water Office, and others who said it might conflict with a 50-year plan being developed the Kansas Water Authority. That plan is expected to be complete by Nov. 1.
“The Brownback administration will investigate, through outreach to numerous stakeholders, a range of issues including the viability of future water supplies in Kansas’ reservoirs,” said Aaron Popelka, vice president of legal and governmental affairs for the livestock association. “It would be premature to advance HB 2439 before this comprehensive planning report is concluded.”
The Kansas Forest Service proposed amending the bill so that some of the money raised from the water fees could be used to restore riverbanks, including the planting of native trees.
Larry Biles, Kansas Forester said streamside forests could save $9.5 million in sediment dredging costs annually.
“Sediment is real,” he said. “We can no longer ignore growing sediment issues in my view. If we can stabilize stream banks, we can slow the effects of sediment and avoid costs.”
According to estimates from the Kansas Division of Budget, the measure would $1.50 a month to the water bill for an average family of four.
No action was taken on the bill.