For the past few years, water has been a constant source of concern for Augusta.
The extended drought conditions in concert with a project that caused the city to drain an already compromised alternate water source have forced residents to restrict outdoor water usage for most of the past two years.
However, the city is finally getting some good news in relation to it water supplies.
While many have mourned the lack of spring-like conditions for the past month, the cooler wet weather has had a very positive impact on the city's water usage and water supply.
The total water usage for Augusta – which includes Augusta residents, Mulvane and rural water districts – was down more than 10 million gallons (about 18%) for the past five weeks compared to the same time period last year. In 2012, more than 58 million gallons were used. This year, only about 48 million gallons have been used.
Mulvane's usage is down from almost 19 million gallons to just over 16 million from April 1 through May 6.
The same weather pattern that has lowered the amount of water used has also helped refill area lakes that are used to supplement the water Augusta draws from El Dorado Lake during peak usage.
Santa Fe Lake is full with water slipping over the spillway. That is a positive even though the water in Santa Fe Lake is a lower quality than Augusta's City Lake and El Dorado Lake. Even at it's best, Santa Fe Lake doesn't hold up well to extensive use over a long period of time. But it will help prevent further water restrictions for the time being.
The city lake is filling to the point where water could be used but the quality is not sufficient to use currently.
"Because of the recent rain events and a significant increase in the water level at Santa Fe Lake, the city is in approximately the same position as we were going into last summer," said City Manager Bill Keefer. "Hence, the staff believes the council can hold off on making any decisions implementing further outdoor watering restrictions."
Keefer was quick to point out that this situation will have to be monitored closely because if the drought conditions with low rain amounts and high temperatures return, the conservation rates may have to be used again and water usage may have to be restricted further.
Due to increased revenue from the new Kansas Star Casino, Mulvane is building its own water treatment plant and bringing some of its old wells back online to supplement the water they purchase from Augusta.
Mulvane has a contract with Augusta that guarantees them up to 200 million gallons per year. That contract has come under increased scrutiny as Augusta residents endured water restrictions as its water customer to the south demanded more water due to growth spurred by the new casino.
Page 2 of 2 - Augusta sells treated water to Mulvane. The contract allows Augusta to increase its rates when the rates for raw water from El Dorado are increased. However, there was no provision for increases in price when the cost to treat the water increased. Thus Mulvane shared none of the cost of Augusta's new water treatment facility or any of the increased cost of the process or chemicals used to treat the water.
Because of this, the city has lost money selling the water over the past several years.
This has led to some on the city council to consider a water district that would substantially change the way water is purchased and sold in the area.
"If we are going to consider this water district or water authority, shouldn't we hire an attorney for an independent review of all of our water contracts," Councilor Sue Jones asked Monday night.
Keefer said the council should be careful what it wishes for.
"That's right," said City Attorney David All who wrote the contract more than 20 years ago.
"Obviously, the pricing mechanism is not in our favor," Keefer said. "But there are pros and cons to the contract. The casino obviously adds a new wrinkle. But this contract has done a lot of good for Augusta over the years."
Matt Malone said he was concerned that hiring an attorney indicated that we were ready to take action and he didn't believe picking a fight with El Dorado was prudent considering they had been lenient with the city during the past few years as it worked through its water issues.
Jones said she wasn't looking to get out of any contract or pick a fight.
"Due to a possible change in dynamics, we need to know where we stand with these contracts," Jones said.
Malone said he thought All was a good source of information on the contracts.
"We do have an attorney on retainer," Malone said, referring to All.
"How many times have we looked at this contract?" asked Councilor Mike Wallace. "It is binding for 15 more years."
"I am amazed that you all think we know everything there is to know abut these contracts," Mayor Kristey Williams said. "We just need to look at them with fresh eyes."
Jones said she thought it might be a good compromise to see what Willis Wilson with Aquatech Inc. found in relation to the possibility of using a water authority or water district and if needed, the contracts may be re-examined at that point.
The discussion stopped there and the council decided not to adjust the water restrictions at this time.