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Regional water needs explored at Tri-State Coalition conference

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Tri-State Water resource Coalition held its annual conference recently in Springfield. Speakers addressed a wide range of topics relating to continuing the supply of water to the southwest Missouri area and the connecting region.

Pete Rauch, Monett utilities superintendent who heads the coalition's technical committee, said presentations were exceptional. He particularly enjoyed hearing details about the Lewis and Clark Regional Water System involving Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota. Dave Oden, lead engineer for the system, explained striking similarities to the Missouri-Oklahoma-Kansas effort to share water that ends up in Grand Lake of the Cherokees in Oklahoma.

Rauch said the northern states projects had advanced much farther than the local effort. The experience described by Oden offered a roadmap for what local coalition members will face in working out a water sharing agreement.

Kyle Arthur, director of the Oklahoma Water Board, agrees that the parties using Grand Lakes water and those wanting to use it should hold talks. The privately held Grand River Dam Authority and the Oklahoma state legislature, which opposing sharing water over state lines, still have not reached the point of serious conversations, Rauch said.

"It's all political," Rauch said. "The engineering is easy in comparison."

Roddy Rogers, who manages water distribution and supply for City Utilities in Springfield, made a PowerPoints presentation about getting water from a global view. Rogers has been to more than 20 counties facing natural disasters and worked on getting water to impacted areas. The audience gave Rogers a standing ovation for his talk, a first in the four years of annual conferences.

Christine Woltman, complex environmental manager for Tyson Foods plant in Noel, stood in for Rusty Bowsher, the plant manager for Tyson Foods in Monett, on a panel about the economics of water. Woltman spoke about how Tyson has saved money through conserving water use.

Bill Bryan, the deputy director for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR), spoke about the state of Missouri's water supplies. Ryan Mueller, director of DNR's water resources center, spoke about water supply in the coalition's territory.

Other presenters spoke about regulations, comparing water and wastewater volumes in city systems, ground and surface water quality in the Ozarks, and competing uses for water.

Rauch said the coalition continues to seek long-term solutions to water supply issues. The Tri-State Water Resource Coalition remains the only group dedicated to securing water supply.

"Just because we have a good water supply now doesn't mean we will in 20 years," Rauch said.

The conference provided a valuable opportunity to network with others in the field. Rauch said the chance to share ideas and get acquainted with colleagues promotes collaboration when problems develop. Rauch praised the work of Gail Melgren, the new executive director for the coalition, for running a smooth and informative conference.

Melgren told The Times those attending the conference took away several main points:

* Water pollution and the lack of available water has created many problems globally and nationally.

"Our region is relatively water rich, but the earth is not endlessly generous, even here. Smart water planning must include proactively securing additional water supply for our region. This will protect and enhance our economic competitiveness and our quality of life," Melgren said.

* Population growth drives future water concerns locally. The Missouri Economic Research and Information Center found the corridor of counties from Joplin and Neosho down to the Missouri/Arkansas border grew at a rate of 16.7 percent from 1990-2000, according to the last available census data. The Springfield to Branson corridor of counties grew at a rate of 27.14 percent during that same decade.

* Inevitable drought cycles recall 2006 when wells were drying up. Population dense cities drawn more ground water for use, leaving a "cone of depression" in underground supplies. Cities were being "We need to be ready when the next drought hits, which requires planning ahead for the future need," Melgren said.

"Because water is so cheap it's been easy to wastewater, but water efficiency will become more important as our communities grow," Melgren continued. "Families, farmers and businesses should seek additional ways to use water wisely as that is our least expensive 'new' water for use, and it will extend the amount of time that the current supply will meet our needs.

Now in its eighth year, the coalition has become more sure of its mission and how to proceed, Rauch added.

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Perhaps all those involved in all this are totally philanthropic and altruistic in their motives, but I am very surprised that there are not people very concerned about all this. We have given this group all the power of a duly elected and duly CONSTITUTIONALIZED government entity, but they have NOT been elected and are seemingly accountable ONLY to the obvious VERY special interest that each member of this group represents... be it a utility company or an indivual city, etc. They started as a group that assured us they were just to "study" the water situation in the area, but almost immediately they asked for-and recieved- the power of imminent domain. Not to be a dark conspiracy theorist, but it strikes me as somehow troubling.

-- Posted by common-tater on Tue, Dec 7, 2010, at 11:09 PM

In response to common-tater's comment about people not being concerned about this--WE ARE! and I agree, this group has been given way too much authority and if they get the Core of Engineers behind them, we don't have a chance! I live in near the area north of Joplin, in Barton County, that is listed as Site #1 in their report and right now is one of their primary choices for a water reservoir. Jasper County will get the dam built there, but southwestern Barton County will become the new "lake". Barton County citizens make up the majority of those who will lose their land, lose their livelihoods, lose tax revenues for schools, etc while Jasper County residents get the majority water benefit due to population.

I understand that we all use water and that we have to look to the future, but I have a hard time thinking that there aren't other options. Why should we lose our property and income so city residents can have more water to keep their grass green and their pool filled? First off--we need tighter water regulations. Let's put a stop to the waste (how about not watering yards with automatic sprinklers when it's raining out or watering the yard just so the grass will grow, etc.)

I do not agree with the Tri-State Water Coalition getting eminent domain rights. I'd like to know how much some of their own pockets will be filled a little from this, especially with companies like Empire involved. They might as well have told us that they don't care what we think about losing not only our homes & land, but also our livelihoods (yes, we will lose the very thing that puts the food on the table)and that they aren't willing to seriously look at other options. It's one thing to relocate someone's home (not that I wish that upon anyone), but to take away someone's livelihood--the very thing they support their family with is ludicrous. Some of us who will be affected by this reservoir will get NOTHING--no payment for land because we rent the very land that will be under water. The land owner will get the buyout and we will be without any compensation for the loss of income that rental ground provides us. Some will lose as much as half of their farming/ranching operations due to losing rental ground and there just isn't a lot of available land to purchase or rent nearby. So then what do we do--set up a bait shop & hope that the economy gets better so people will come boating & fishing? The coalition doesn't care about that though. They don't think about the fact that some of those affected are trying to support three or four families with these farms, that farming is the career they've had for 30+ years, or that has been a part of their family's history for 100 years. Are they going to compensate people for the lost income they would have had for the next 20+ years off that farm? Of course not! Farming isn't just some job that you can pick up and find another one easily. It's not like you have a guaranteed salary every year and one has a large investment with it. They say that this site will affect fewer people...but it affects those that use the land as their source of income and to help feed the people in the cities. Why not find a way to use an area that's not productive?

This reservoir issue has been kept under the radar quite well until the past year and many in our area have voiced their opinions only to be silenced by the fact that we will have no other option but to be forced from our properties. Maybe it will be 15+ years before the reservoir is built,but the buyouts will begin long before then. It's time other people were really aware of what this is about it and speak out against it.

-- Posted by mofarmer01 on Sun, Jan 2, 2011, at 11:43 PM

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