On Sept. 16, members of the Tri-State Water Coalition will discuss their next move as the group seeks to reorganize from a not-for-profit entity into a government entity that has authority to act on bringing water into the area.
Bob Nichols, chairman of the coalition, said that it became apparent as the coalition explored the task involved with either drawing water from existing lakes or setting up new reservoirs that the coalition's 501(c)3 status would not do the job.
"We need the ability to issue tax exempt bonds and to have the power of eminent domain," Nichols said. "We want to reorganize into a government entity like a water district or some other authority."
The coalition has retained a Kansas City law firm specializing in water issues. Nichols was hopeful that at the coalition's Sept. 16 meeting, the firm's representatives could spell out the next steps to be taken.
Nichols said the coalition may need additional authority from the Missouri General Assembly to proceed with its mission. That being the case and with the current Speaker of the House coming from Joplin, the group planned to have a proposal ready for consideration by the General Assembly's next session in January, 2010.
The question of eminent domain was not raised until after the group identified sites in July that may be targeted as future reservoirs. Nichols did not see the eminent domain authority as a tool to get the reservoirs established.
"Building reservoirs is not on our agenda," Nichols said. "We still hope to get water from existing lakes. Even if we do, we're still talking about pump stations and miles of pipeline and right-of-way to move that water. With as many miles of pipes and right-of-way as we're talking about, there's bound to be a holdout somewhere."
Nichols was hopeful negotiations with landowners could secure needed land without going to court.
"Eminent domain is a hard way to get right-of-way," Nichols said. "Hopefully we won't have to do that."
In July, the coalition announced plans to pursue the construction of two additional reservoirs in southwest Missouri to act as sources of public water over the next 50 years. According to a 2002 study for the city of Joplin, completed alternatives to deep water wells need to be found. Existing supplies could be in jeopardy by another drought over the next 15 years.
A technical study released in July identified the three best sites for potential reservoirs. One was located west of Monett on Shoal Creek. The other two were off Indian Creek and James River, close to Springfield. Monett would be located between the two. According to Monett Utilities Superintendent Pete Rauch, it would be less expensive for the city to tap the western reservoir due to its proximity.
Throughout the July news conference Rauch, who heads the coalition's technical committee, stressed the coalition did not want to pursue the reservoir option. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been asked to rule on the option of drawing water from Table Rock and Stockton lakes. The Corps said an answer was five years away at least. Negotiations to use Grand Lake in Oklahoma remain open but contingent upon political sentiment.
Nichols said the ability to pursue other options was still a key for the coalition's long-term success.
"We want to be ready when we find the water we need," Nichols added.