Tr-State Water Coalition continues water supply quest

Wednesday, July 22, 2015
Brian Clark, hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, showed the Tri-State Water Coalition board the map of the underground aquifer supplying water in southwest Missouri. The deep blue circle at center shows the deepest and most abundant area for water, located under Monett. The yellow and brown coloration shows the more shallow ridges of the aquifer. Murray Bishoff Cassville Democrat

Monett meeting reviews recent flooding, supply lobbying

For the first time, the board of the Tri-State Water Coalition held one of its bi-monthly meetings in Monett.

Members discussed recent flooding and how that fits into the big picture of supplying water to the area.

The coalition seeks to secure a long-term solution for the area's water supply. Planners expect the current water supply strategy, which Christian County Commissioner Ray Weter described as sticking straws in the ground and sucking it out, to fail over time. Organized in 2001, Tri-State has declared its interest in securing some of the water stockpiled in Stockton and Table Rock lakes for public use throughout the 16 southwest Missouri counties. The coalition has also identified seven locations for building new water reservoirs for supply as an alternative.

Discussion focused on the overabundance of water over the past week, particularly in Cassville and Christian County, and what that means in the big picture.

"We've been in a wet period for the past 20 years," said Gail Milgren, executive director of the coalition. "It's inevitable that we will hit another drought."

Pete Rauch, retired Monett utilities superintendent and one of the coalition's founding members, reminded the group that state meteorologist Pat Guinan talks about rainfall patterns. The drought of the 1930s, Rauch noted, lasted 10 years. John Grothaus, chief of plan formulation for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, noted Missouri's chief climatologist have reviewed recent drought history to see how it compares to the 1950s in an effort to avoid repeating mistakes.

Walensky

The latest round of flooding raised other water control issues. Steve Walensky, public works director for Cassville, discussed how his town took a battering from six inches of rain in two and a half hours. Paul Rydlund, supervisory hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) at the Missouri Water Science Center in Rolla, contacted Walensky due to the height of the flooding. Rydlund said the flooding may have exceeded the USGS estimates for the 100-year flood plain, and his office would like to review the event and revise maps accordingly.

Rydlund also discussed setting up an alert system on tributary streams flowing into Cassville. The city could receive a warning of spiked water levels that could help with flood preparations. Walensky said he drove to low water crossings during the latest flooding to visually gauge the time available before additional water reached key places in the city.

Walensky thanked cities, such as Monett, for calling and asking how they could help the flood effort.

"With only six of us in the public works department, there weren't enough of us to go around," Walensky said.

Others noted the Joint Municipal Utility Commission will also provide assistance from member towns during such emergencies.

Even with the flooding, Walensky said the group cannot take its eyes off the prize.

"The aquifer got a lot of recharging from this event," he said. "California is in the fourth or fifth year of its drought. They're still sticking straws in the ground with no control. They need to be the canary in the cave. What we're doing is trying to understand the demand requirements here. We could be there [in a similar situation as California] in a couple years."

Brian Clark, a hydrologist with the USGS, presented his report on the Ozark Plateau watershed. Study of the aquifer began in the early 1980s and has now refined into identifying pieces of the aquifer. According to the subterranean map Clark showed, Monett appears located over a point in the aquifer where water is very deep and at its most abundant. The aquifer deepens into Arkansas, but Clark said the water at the lowest levels there is sulphur laden and hardly useable.

The aquifer becomes shallow east of Springfield as well as in Oklahoma. Pulling past models on how rainwater recharges the underground supply, Clark said amounts per location vary from none to 14 inches in a single year.

Walensky asked if the water supply forecasts, first developed in the 1990s, have proven accurate. Clark responded experts still do not know. Combining all the known records of water use, Clark found county estimates have run about 20 percent above other measured totals. Regardless of the true totals, Clark said the trend has gone consistently upward. Walensky warned the targeted totals may fall short. By Tri-State's own estimated, by 2060 demand for water use could increase anywhere from 15 to 72 percent.

Milgren updated the board on the latest efforts to lay groundwork for a future water supply. The study of the water supply in Stockton Lake could conclude as early as 2017, at which point the Army Corps of Engineers could consider reallocation. Milgren urged the board to begin thinking about financing a future supply. Only the city of Springfield has access to Stockton Lake water.

The coalition received an invitation to attend shoreline management talks over Table Rock Lake. Milgren expected these discussions to become very contentious. Addressing possible intact sites for water use would impact the future of docks, trees and other private property.

Tri-State would have representatives at the interstate policy conference in Little Rock, Ark., Sept. 29 through Oct. 1, where representatives from 15 states would look at developing a national water policy. Earlier this year, a delegation went twice to Jefferson City as well as to Washington, D.C. to see senators and Congress members.

The coalition would continue to reach out to cities that have not joined representing major users, such as Battlefield, Bolivar, Ozark, Neosho, Stockton, Republic, Carl Junction and Aurora. The more participants, the more effective the coalition can become, Milgren said.

Board members toured the new Monett water treatment plant. The next meeting will take place in September in Mt. Vernon.

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