A $200,000 study prepared by the Fort Worth, Texas, engineering firm of Freese and Nichols pointed toward three possible locations for reservoirs that could be constructed. Details of the study were announced at a special press conference held yesterday at the Monett City Park Casino.
Pete Rauch, Monett's utilities superintendent who heads up the coalition's technical committee, said the identification of possible reservoir sites does not mean the bodies of water will ever be built.
"Our responsibility is to look at all options," Rauch said, in opening yesterday's meeting. "Reservoirs are an option."
Harold McCoy, a board member with the Tri-State Coalition, explained that a 2003 ground water study for the city of Joplin suggested an extended drought could cause shortages in the area's groundwater supply. In the area, only Springfield, Lamar, Joplin and Neosho rely on treating surface water instead of deep water wells for their water supply.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which controls water from Stockton Lake and Table Rock Lake, estimated it would take five to seven years to respond to the coalition's request to draw water from existing lakes. Drawing water from Grand Lake in Oklahoma is presently restricted by politics. McCoy said that may change as a lawsuit over interstate transportation of water between Texas and Oklahoma moved forward.
In the meantime, the coalition decided to pursue available options for water. A study, paid for by coalition member towns and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, was commissioned. Engineer John Rutledge with Freese and Nichols said 14 locations for reservoirs were reviewed to provide sources for an additional 100 million gallons of water a day by the year 2050.
Rutledge said the screening study found it would be equally economical to use smaller regional reservoirs as building a 124-million-gallon reservoir and trying to serve the entire area from it. A central reservoir was envisioned on the James River, southwest of Springfield in Stone County.
After running numbers on the raw water cost, three sites appeared to have fairly comparable cost. Sites were identified on the James River in central Stone County, on Shoal Creek in Newton County and in northern McDonald Country on Indian Creek east of Highway 71.
Rauch said the strategy that seemed most promising would split the east and west halves of southwest Missouri, with Monett probably going with the east half. Choosing the Shoal Creek site, however, which is closer to Monett, could change the city's approach.
Rutledge cautioned the exact location of the reservoirs was far from final. Many additional factors would impact development. Survey work on impacted property would be part of the next step in advancing the study further.
The Shoal Creek site, for example, contains a heavy concentration of railroad tracks. Indian Creek in McDonald County is a very popular recreational site for canoeing.
"There are a lot of challenges with each option," Rutledge said.
Getting water from existing lakes offered hurdles as well, said McCoy. In core lakes, like Stockton and Table Rock, the top 15 percent of the water is discretionary, meaning the Corps of Engineers can make arrangements for its use. Much of the discretionary portion of Stockton Lake has already been committed for use by the city of Springfield.
Beyond the top 15 percent, the water supply falls under the reallocation category. McCoy said this water supply can be used but requires authorization by the U.S. Congress and would cost money for lost hydro power, flood storage or for operation of the reservoir. The cost would be between $1.5 million and $2 million per year.
Moreover, McCoy said additional costs would come from pumping the water, treating it and sending it by pipeline to the towns that need it. McCoy estimated a pumping and treatment system would cost the average water user about $30 more per month in 2009 dollars.
Many additional decisions will have to be made to advance the plan. Rutledge said funding would be needed for more detailed studies on issues such as environmental impact.
According to the original water study, groundwater as a supply source for the area could be in trouble in as little as 10 to 15 years. Rauch said in the 2005 drought, Monett's deep water wells struggled. Rutledge said even if the reservoir sites were chosen, getting permits could take several years.
No source of money for buying land for the reservoirs was identified. Rauch said the coalition has relied heavily on the volunteer efforts of Bob Nichols as president in its efforts to date. An annual allocation by member towns was being considered to make leadership of the coalition a paid position.
In addition to the cost of land, McCoy estimated construction of the needed pumping and treatment plants for the reservoirs would cost $2 billion. Running them would cost another $120 million a year.
Rauch expressed doubt that the reservoirs would ever be built.
"A new reservoir is not a high priority with the coalition," Rauch said. "Most of us are for pursuing water already caught. It's redundant going upstream. We pursued what we could do. We felt it was our responsibility to look at alternatives.
"We're taking little steps. We're a long way from a solution," Rauch said.