Archive for Thursday, May 21, 2009

City questions state agencies actions on possible grant application

May 21, 2009

The city of De Soto and three neighboring rural water districts are moving forward a feasibility study of the joint use of the Sunflower water plant despite what city officials view as the unwarranted interference by a state agency.

On the De Soto City Council’s agenda Thursday is an interlocal agreement with Johnson County Rural Water Districts Nos. 6 and 7 to share in the cost of the feasibility study. Douglas County Water District 4 is also involved in the study because it buys water from Johnson County Water District No. 6.

The feasibility study is to cost $25,000, and the potential partners plan to apply for a Kansas Department of Health and Environment grant that would provide half of the total cost.

The council encouraged the formation of a partnership in the form of a public wholesale water district to help reduce the cost of city water customers of the water plant’s renovations.

Last month, the city received a copy of a letter Katherine Tietsort, water commissioner with the Kansas Department of Agriculture Division of Water Resources, sent to the KDHE concerning a possible grant application. Tietsort states because of “concerns with the water rights that appear to be the likely sources of the PWWSD (public wholesale water supply district), DWR (division of water resources) recommends that the KDHE be careful in its evaluation.”

The water rights in question are associated with the well field in the West Bottoms that supply water to the Sunflower treatment plant the city has operated for the last decade and now supplies the city of De Soto. In February, the De Soto City Council agreed to renovate the plant for which it will get the title once it is certified free of pollution from the ammunition plant’s operation.

After receiving a copy of Tietsort’s letter, De Soto City Attorney Patrick Reavey sent a letter to Brett Berry, staff attorney for Kansas Department of Agriculture, questioning its appropriateness, especially in light of the city’s lawsuit against the Division of Water Resources concerning the water rights in question.

Berry’s response was Tietsort was doing her job of informing another state agency of the factors involved.

The city filed suit in December 2007 against the Division of Water Resources and Sunflower Redevelopment L.L.C. after the division awarded the senior water rights associated with the Sunflower property and the water plant to the developer and the Johnson Parks and Recreation District (the city had secured junior water rights to use the well field for its municipal use).

In a letter to Berry, Reavey wrote: “Ms. Tietsort’s letter appears to be an effort to cause another State agency to deny grant funding to the City (the City has not even applied for funding yet) based on the assumptions by Ms. Tietsort that presuppose the Judge will decide Declaratory Judgment action in favor of Sunflower Redevelopment and the Division of Water Resources.”

The lawsuit has been on hold for months because the city granted Sunflower Redevelopments request for a continence in the lawsuit and offered a settlement, which city officials say was developed with the full involvement of the developer. That agreement would reserve the well field south of the Kansas River for De Soto’s exclusive use and give the city rights from the 8-million-gallon-a-day Sunflower Army Ammunition equaling 2 million gallons a day.

But Sunflower Redevelopment has never signed off on the agreement.

Neither the junior nor senior rights associated with the well field would allow diversion of water from that source for the use of the neighboring rural water districts. During the lengthy discussions leading to the decision to renovate the Sunflower water plant, city officials and council members acknowledged questions the Sunflower subsurface water rights would have to be resolved.

In his letter to Berry, Reavey requested all correspondence and communications sent or received by officials with the Division of Water Resources concerning Right 38. Those documents are now at City Hall, but Reavey said he had not had time to review them.

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