Archive for Thursday, August 17, 2006

Water decision delay gives city time to engage

August 17, 2006

The latest of three meetings on the city of De Soto's future water needs ended with the city council's admission last week that there would be no change in the immediate future. For the next few years, the city can expect to keep making incremental improvements to the Sunflower water plant, much as it has for the past six years.

In that the city is fortunate.

This summer offers evidence the water department staff has made the plant a reliable source of water. Despite the heat and the below normal rainfall, De Soto residents haven't been asked to limit water use as was the case when the Shawnee water plant was the city's water producer.

As for the future, the council has confirmed in the past three months there is no cheap option. Even the cheapest studied alternative that would back the city out of water production, purchasing water from the city of Olathe, would cost an estimated $5.2 million.

The improvements needed to make the Sunflower plant and the city well field will also have a price, and that work will limit the city's ability to save for whatever long-term solution is chosen, whether it be a new plant, a major refurbishment of the Sunflower plant or the purchase of water from another city or utility.

But despite that not insignificant concern, there are two basic reasons for the council to be thankful the Sunflower plant provides the city a fallback position.

First, the city can't afford to take on another major project right now as it starts to pay off the aquatic center and replenish a neglected debt service fund.

Moreover, the city doesn't know who its future customers will be. It could end up being a regional provider or could watch from the sidelines as other providers serve thousands of new customers within De Soto's future corporate limits.

That's quite a disparity, and obviously the city needs to get a better understanding of the intentions of the Johnson County Water District No. 6 in the city's growth area, and the future plans of water districts in Douglas County, the city of Eudora, and, of course, Sunflower Redevelopment LLC.

Eudora and Sunflower Redevelopment plan their own studies, which will take them off the shelf for at least a year. Talks with Water District No. 6 might lead to more immediate understandings but won't produce a developer that would help pay for water production improvements.

The present confusion will change before this decade ends. If nothing else, the master plan has more clearly defined the challenges the city must address in dealing with outside entities. While some of the decisions on De Soto's borders are out of the council's control, city officials are now armed with more information to use as they start engaging neighbors.

Although the city's water issues are complex and multiple, it is encouraging city officials will not be passive bystanders as changes occur on its borders.

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