The purpose of the committee is to coordinate all of the water issues for the future of Butler County residents
The purpose of a new county-originated water committee has caused some concern for the El Dorado City Commission.
The commission has talked about the new committee being formed a couple of times, voicing concerns and questions about the reason for the committee, but because of a meeting this past Thursday, they added an agenda item to their special meeting last Wednesday to discuss their appointment to the committee.
“What the (County) Commissioners wanted to do was put together a committee where the cities and the players in our county who deliver water here have an opportunity to come together and discuss the issues on water in Butler County and how we can best serve residents,” said County Administrator Will Johnson when asked about the committee at a later time. “It gives an avenue for everyone to come to the same table and share and discuss issues that may affect all county revenues and have an avenue to plan on water resources in the county.”
County Commissioner Peggy Palmer was a driving force behind the committee, which is made up of two county commissioners and one elected representative from each of the five largest cities in the county.
“The purpose is to coordinate all of the water issues and water planning for the future of Butler County residents,” Palmer said in a follow-up interview, “and just be informed and have all of the players come together and talk about their water needs.”
The agenda for this month’s Butler County Water Coordinating Committee meeting included the resolution establishing the committee, information on the comprehensive plan dealing with future planning, hearing from John Bailey on the wholesale water report from 1999, as well as discussing future meetings.
Prior to the meeting, the City Commission had to decide who would be their representative.
“Kind of what I had mentioned before talking to Herb (Llewellyn, city manager), in regards to the water, I am kind of neutral to who does it (serves on the committee) because since I’ve been on the commission I have not had the opportunity to have the conversation as a whole on everyone’s thoughts on water,” said City Commissioner Chase Locke.
He said he would feel comfortable sitting in on the meetings and listening, but not representing the will of the commission since he was so newly elected.
“I think our person on the committee has to represent our intentions,” Locke continued. “We need to have our discussion. Right now that person can’t express any intention either way. I think it’s important no one says anything on our behalf without knowing what we are wanting to do. That’s where I stand with that I guess.”
Llewellyn said whoever attends should report to the committee the issue is on the city’s agenda Monday for further discussion, where they will take another look at the resolution.
City Commissioner Nick Badwey pointed out Commissioner Bill Young has been on the Regional Economic Area Partnership (REAP) water committee for 2 1/2 years.
“We talked a little about this at our last meeting and I don’t know how everybody else feels about it,” Badwey said during their meeting Wednesday. “I think we’re entitled to two people on this committee if we participate.”
City Commissioner David Chapin said they had two county representatives on the committee.
“Peggy’s vision is it is for elected officials,” Llewellyn said. “The input from some of the other elected officials was they really weren’t interested in coming without staff because they don’t really have the information that staff has.”
Chapin said he doesn’t know why it would be elected people versus those who know about water.
“From what I gathered from talking to a couple of commissioners, this is all about trying to figure out the resources of Butler County and planning ahead,” Chapin said. “That’s all I know.”
Palmer had said they were open meetings, saying input was good. She said all of the commissioners were welcome to attend.
“I think it’s going to be a great thing,” she said. “We have no purpose but to start talking about it so we all understand.”
She said during the first two meetings they have found out so many things they didn’t all know just by talking.
Mayor Mike Fagg also pointed out during the city meeting they could all attend if they wanted to.
“It’s one of those kind of deals I sure would envision anything that has to be voted on of any significance would be something we would have to bring back and be talked about,” he said. “I enjoy this stuff and I’ve been following this since day one. This is part of the reason I ran, to get this conversation going.”
Chapin wanted to know what kind of conversation Fagg wanted to get started.
Fagg said he wanted to talk about the water sales policy.
“The idea was to sell in El Dorado and outside El Dorado in the county and outside the county,” he said.
Young said that is not what El Dorado’s water policy says.
Badwey clarified it says “new customers.”
Chapin then asked where the rest of the cities get their water from who don’t get it from El Dorado.
Fagg said they get it from Wichita.
“This is a county driven deal,” he said. “All we’re wanting to do is set at the table and be a good neighbor and encourage conversation.”
“I just want the right conversation encouraged for El Dorado,” Chapin said.
“What is the right conversation?” Fagg asked.
“We’ve got the water and they are more than welcome to come to us to get it,” Chapin responded.
“I’m thinking they called the meeting and all the cities in the county to it, and we should be there as a neighbor in the conversation,” Fagg said.
Badwey then said when he was looking through the minutes of the previous meetings there were some statements about which he had some apprehensions.
“One is ‘we are aware of Wichita’s desire to buy water but we need to ensure Butler County residents are supplied first,’” he said.
He pointed out some of the cities in Butler County are supplied by Wichita.
Young also added the reality of that situation is Wichita has not asked to buy water from El Dorado.
Returning to the subject of the city’s committee member, Young said he had an interest to be on the committee since he has been serving on REAP water.
“I agree with you though no matter what we do before we move forward we need to have a meeting as a commission to understand what the will of the commission is to understand what our posture is as it pertains to water,” Young said.
“We don’t even know what the committee is wanting to do,” Fagg said. “How do we posture ourselves?”
“We need to have a discussion to know where we stand,” Locke said.
He said they needed that discussion so they were all on the same page and so whoever is representing them is doing so representing them as a commission and not as an individual.
“Palmer said the committee needs to make sure the county has cheap water,” Fagg said. “They don’t own any water.”
Young said that was one of the things he takes issue with since at the county level and above they don’t own the water.
“They don’t have any water so why is she making that statement?” Young asked. “They don’t have any water to deal with.”
“I want to be positive,” Fagg said. “I don’t want to be negative about it.”
Young said that was not being negative, it was being realistic.
“Today the citizens of El Dorado are on the hook for the debt at the lake,” he said. “While they can’t make policy as it pertains to El Dorado, I have a concern with the perception this committee can create.”
Badwey pointed out the committee was said to “promote accountability, fairness and transparency.” He wanted to have those defined.
“Those are pretty good things to have,” Fagg said.
“I know what they mean,” Badwey said.
“What more can you ask from a committee?” Fagg asked.
Llewellyn again pointed out they are talking about things they don’t own.
“Are they saying we are not transparent and fair?” Badwey asked.
“The city of El Dorado, Kan., is on the hook for the lake debt. It is on us to pay that back and we are going to pay it back from water sales. If we sell water to Wichita or whoever, that is how we are going to pay the debt back. I don’t want us to end up like other debts and come due and they are sitting on water and not selling it. We’re going to pay our debt and that’s how we are going to pay it by selling water. And we’re going to be accountable and we’re going to be fair and we’re going to be transparent.”
“Guys, it’s a committee,” Fagg said, “and all I want to do is be fair. You guys aren’t going to hear me come back and say something you wouldn’t be proud of.”
Chapin then told Fagg it was a good thing they have the lake and not to talk bad about the debt.
“We have to service the debt,” Fagg said.
“Are we following all of the rules set down by the United States of America?” Chapin asked.
Fagg said they were.
Chapin then asked Fagg why he was instilling so much fear in the citizens about the debt.
“How are we going to pay it down?” Chapin asked Fagg.
“With water sales,” Fagg replied.
“It’s not going to be through selling water for free,” Chapin responded.
“Nobody says that,” Fagg said.
“I am not saying we are going to rip off the citizens,” Chapin continued. “The whole thing about it is we own a lake and it’s a freaking pot of gold out there because look at what happened to water from 1970 to today.”
He said if someone would have told in him 1970 how much a bottle of water would sell for today he would have laughed.
“The greatest commodity on earth right now is water,” Chapin continued. “The future dollars in the sale of water is the largest thing out there, so don’t talk bad about our debt and that it’s the end of the world. We’re going to be fair to Butler County. We’ve always taken care of Butler County and always supplied Butler County with water. If Rose Hill or Andover wants to buy it, they are going to have to come and talk to us. If eastern Butler County wants to buy more, we’re going to sell it to them. Because we sell Wichita water (if that ever came to be) does not mean Butler County will not have water.”
Locke then said he thought they were were giving the committee more credit than it really deserves.
“I think it’s a conversation,” he said. “I am totally cool with it just being a conversation. As long as I’m getting minutes from everything and we’re in the loop, I’m totally fine with you doing it, Mike, with the understanding we’re just talking.”
Chapin then said again he thought they should have two representatives.
Fagg said he could go to the meeting and say they want two representatives.
This prompted more questions from the committee.
“Is the county committee wanting to discuss El Dorado water?” Young asked.
“Are certain people under the impression everyone is entitled to what we have when they need it?” Locke asked, saying he thought it was important to make the situation clear to some of those involved.
Fagg said he thought John Bailey did that the night he made his presentation.
Fagg also asked if asking for more than one committee member was the kind of statement they want to make.
“I think we are making the statement to citizens they want us to make,” Young said. “We’re there to protect the citizens of El Dorado. I think that’s the statement it makes. I am less worried about the statement it makes to the county or other communities than the statement it makes to the citizens of El Dorado.”
Chase asked what it was Fagg thought they might think if El Dorado asked for two.
“This is a county-driven committee and the county having two reps on there, being their committee, and if you were with one of the other communities and this is a county deal, right up front saying that, I don’t know what decisions these guys are going to make that are going to be so important other than a good discussion that we can bring back and discuss. We’re at a time we’re at least setting down at a table and discussing. There was a time there were a lot of egos around the table and the discussion stopped.”
The commission agreed Fagg and Badwey would attend the Thursday night meeting and discuss El Dorado’s desire to have two on the committee.
When asked about the committee later, Palmer explained it was the County Commission’s committee so they would report back to them.
“Any recommendations this committee might make like updating the vision statement, that would be something the commissioners would do,” she said.
She also said they could give more accurate figures on what is going on right now.
“Rose Hill doesn’t know what Augusta is doing and Augusta doesn’t know what Andover’s needs are,” Palmer said. “When somebody calls me and says what’s going on with the water in Butler County, I can have an answer and everyone can have the same answer, and you learn from each other.”
She said the resolution they were considering did call for accountability, fairness and transparency, but that those were in general and not directed at one city.
“We understand that we do not control the water, El Dorado does,” Palmer said. “Our powers and projects would be to promote accountability, fairness and transparency.”
She said they also could recommend studies or projects for resources in Butler County.
She said this was in line with what the state water office recommended in 2002, when it recommended having a reporting agency. Then the governor recently came out with recommendations to start discussion.
“We are not talking about making any changes at all,” Palmer said. “We’ve just talked about getting information and understanding what is going on in Butler County now. Everybody is talking about their needs and what they are doing now.”
One of the first things the committee will do is have the Kansas Water Resource come in and answer questions and help them understand the situation. She said it was a complex issue with water sheds, lakes, reservoirs and the number of water lines in the county.
Palmer also said it was recommended in the county commission’s comprehensive plan to talk about water and the future of water in Butler County.
On Thursday evening, the water committee recommended forwarding the resolution with minor edits to the County Commission. The only issue discussed was the addition of another El Dorado person to the committee.
They decided since it was a non-binding work group with no real authority everyone should come to the table as equals.
The Butler County Commission will discuss it at their Tuesday meeting under other business, then take action on it the week of March 25.
Julie Clements can be reached at email@example.com.