WaterOne board candidates on the issues: Utility priorities and Missouri River intake issues

RP-Water_Tower

We asked the candidates for WaterOne board about some of the biggest issues facing the utility. Here’s what they had to say.

Priorities for the water board

What would be your top priority as a member of the water board?

Position 3

Kay Heley
If elected, I would be the only health care professional on the Board.  My priority will be to utilize my 30 years of public health nursing experience to ensure that all Board decisions will be evaluated on the basis of their impact on the health of our community, including WaterOne employees.  I will ask pertinent health-related questions; consult with staff; and research best practices, successful initiatives, and concerns from other communities as well as collaborate with public health officials.

In calling hundreds of voters, I have been sobered by how few people in our community know about the WaterOne Board, and its responsibilities to a public utility or understand that we elect those Board members. Given the important link between our water and our health, as an elected member of this public Board, I will advocate for plans and policies that engage the community in WaterOne’s work.  We are fortunate to have plentiful and safe water in our community, and I want to protect it. I will encourage more public involvement in monthly Board meetings and increase public awareness about significant decisions.

Because our water is a critical resource, as a nurse educator and an elected, public utility Board member, I will urge plans and policies that further engage the community, including our children, in the conservation and protection of our water.  Given some of the challenges facing Kansas water utilities, we need the public to be informed and involved.

As a Board member, I will work to ensure the fiscal health of our water utility and will support plans and policies that are economically sound and result in affordable, safe water for all in our community.  I am a nurse running for the Water District #1 Board because our water is too precious to take for granted!

Jim Vader (incumbent)
As a current board member of Water District #1 of Johnson County and candidate for re-election my priorities for the District remain unchanged:  provide our customers with safe, reliable, quality water, at a reasonable cost.

As a board member I will continue to support our policy of having growth pay for growth in providing water to new service connections.

Position 5

Brenda Cherpitel (incumbent)
My top priority as a member of the WaterOne Board would remain the same as it has been over the last 10 years of my service as Board Member Position 5: ensuring a safe, adequate, high quality water supply to the over 400,000 people living in the Water District.  Closely aligned with that priority is delivering that water for fair and reasonable rates and focusing on long-range planning to protect critical infrastructure, promote water conservation, and ensure financial stability.
I’m pleased to report that we will be converting the Hansen Water Treatment plant to an Ozone treatment process.  This is a proactive step in ensuring safe, high quality water because ozone is a more powerful disinfectant than our current chlorine dioxide, is more effective in reducing taste and odor compounds,  in removing algal toxins (microcystins), in reducing micro-constituents (pharmaceuticals and personal care products), all while simplifying operations.  This project was a part of our last master plan and has been thoroughly researched and vetted over the last several years.  It will be awarded at our November meeting with project completion in 2020.  Continuity of Board leadership is important in overseeing implementation of this proactive initiative.

WaterOne is one of the best water utilities in the country as evidenced by its Platinum Award for Utility Excellence from the Association of Metropolitan Water Utilities, as well as having the highest bond ratings awarded to a public utility.  Long range planning is essential and we recently adopted the 2017 Master Plan that provides a roadmap for the next 40+ years.
Finally of critical importance to me in representing you, is that WaterOne maintains customer satisfaction rates of over 90%, is considered the most reliable utility, and will be able to deliver all of this for a 0% rate increase in 2018!

Jessica Skyfield
My top priority would be long term sustainability of our water resources.

One of the easiest, and very effective ways, to accomplish this on a local scale would be water conservation education and initiatives.

WaterOne currently has two blocks of pricing, but I would implement additional water bill blocks to encourage less water use and give people who use less water an even greater discount on their water bills.

I would also advocate for customer discounts for installing rain barrels, using gray water, and xeriscaping.

Please see question three for additional initiatives that reflect my top priority, also.

John Snyder
My top priority as member of the water board would be to use my experience in the Army Corps of Engineers and the education I gained through University of Maryland’s masters of environmental management to make socially conscience decisions. To maximize the quality and sustainability of the water being supplied to my neighbors, community, and city as a whole.

Missouri River intake issues

In 2014, the Army Corps of Engineers released a study on degradation of the Missouri River beds that are vital to WaterOne’s intakes. What should Water One be doing to find a permanent solution to this issue?

Position 3

Kay Heley
We acquire our water from the Missouri River and its tributary, the Kaw River. The erosion of  our Missouri River bed results in lower water levels and disturbed sediment, posing critical challenges for WaterOne’s water-supply intake equipment and our water quality.   WaterOne partnered with MARC, other municipalities, and private companies to fund the 2014 Feasibility Study to study possible solutions.

What is the right permanent solution to protect our Missouri River beds? The follow-up Army Corps Technical Report, issued in May, 2017, reviewed many options.  While floods, dams and navigation structures can cause degradation, the report cites commercial sand and gravel mining as “the dominant driver of projected bed degradation over the next 50 years.” Appropriately restricting commercial sand and gravel mining appears to be the most economically viable solution to river bed degradation.

The Corps Report did not recommend a federal solution.  We must solve this problem locally.   We need to find a solution that balances our community’s need for construction sand and the interests of businesses and private land owners with our need to protect the long-term viability of our river.  Friends of the Kaw  promotes switching commercial mining processes from river dredging to carefully-selected pit mines, noting the success of a local pit mine that became a lake.

WaterOne Board and staff must continue to work with MARC and expand the team to search for innovative solutions. We need to collaborate with the private companies and landowners who rely on the river.  We need to implement creative ways to limit river sand mining.  Board members and staff must inspire public discussion and advocacy, as well as communication with legislators, state officials, and the Corps of Engineers (who issues permits for sand mining operators). Together we can stabilize our Missouri River bed to protect our water’s future.

Jim Vader (incumbent)

Because of serious degradation problems near our intakes, on the Missouri and Kansas rivers, our general manager and staff  were responsible for bringing together the Kansas Water Office, Kansas Department of Health and Environment and Kansas City Missouri Water Department in conjunction with the Corps of Engineers, to aggressively pursue the controlling of commercial dredging on the rivers, a major cause of the degradation.

Position 5

Brenda Cherpitel (incumbent)
WaterOne has been at the forefront of this issue since the beginning by drawing attention to the problem after experiencing costly degradation at our Missouri River intake in 2003.  In fact, WaterOne urged the Corps to look at this issue and proactively formed a cost-sharing agreement between the Corps and 20 local stakeholders to fund the study.  WaterOne has directly contributed $598,000 and thousands of staff hours to be actively engaged in developing a long-term solution to this problem.  The Corps concluded the study with a technical memo finding that the most feasible solution was to halt commercial dredging on the river.  While we agree, this is outside of our direct control and it will be incumbent upon the Corps to resolve the complex problem of having recently renewed several dredging permits for the next five years.  As a Board Member, I would continue to advocate for an expedient resolution to this issue.  For more information see the WaterOne website at www.WaterOne.org/MORiver.

Jessica Skyfield
WaterOne is working on this issue with the Legislature and the Corps. The question refers to a 2014 study, but I am not familiar with those results, perhaps this data referes to when the study was initiated. The Executive Summary regarding this issue was completed by the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) and the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), to my knowledge, in May of this year.

The single best way to stop this bed degradation is to no longer permit commercial sand and gravel operations along the critical section (at a minimum) of the Missouri River. I will work with the State Legislatures, USACE, Department of Natural Resources, and any other critical, invested state and federal agencies on this large-scale issue. Based on the USACE and MARC report, stopping the permitting of these operations will save the Kansas City metro area $~3.1 billion in infrastructure repairs and most efficiently stop river bed degradation as compared to the modelling of other options.

Thus, after reading this report and looking at the data, I would advocate for ceasing these dredging permits immediately to save billions of dollars in infrastructure repairs and improve our water quality for decades to come, a benefit without a price tag.

John Snyder
As a former employee that protected and managed water resources in the Kansas City district for the Army Corps of Engineers I know personally the complexities of the issue. To say there is a permanent solution to the problem would be a lie, but we can make steps forward to address the issue and make alternative plans to react in real time to different scenarios that may occur. At the current time I would suggest first the lowering of bank stabilizing structures in key areas to lower the amount of sediment being trapped. This would reducing the degradation of the river with minimal interference to the river. Additional measures could include the complete removal of specific dikes and the last option that I would not endorse unless a urgent need arose would be the construction of grade control structures in the main channel to trap sediment.

Kansas water policy

What statewide water policy issues are most important to the future of WaterOne’s operations?

Position 3

Kay Heley

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) is responsible for oversight of the federal Clean Water Act (1972) and the Safe Drinking Water Act (1974) for our community.  The goal is to ensure the safety and quality of our drinking water. We need to be sure our regulations and their enforcement keep up with new or increasing contaminants. One example is HAB’s (Harmful Algal Blooms) which grow rapidly from too many nutrients, like nitrates, in our reservoirs.  These nutrients are washed into our reservoirs by agricultural stormwater run-off.  HAB’s, with warm temperatures and enough sunlight, emit toxins that are harmful to people and animals.  KDHE samples public lakes after public sightings of the blooms, and then publicizes warnings.  HAB-contaminated water is released from reservoirs into our rivers and can enter our treatment plants.   Another example is atrazine, a commonly-used herbicide and considered an Endocrine Disruption Compound.  Storm-water washes atrazine into our rivers where it can enter our treatment plants.

Increasing sedimentation in our reservoirs is decreasing water storage necessary for our growing population and for drought conditions. Will the proposed science-based watershed management plans be adequately funded and implemented?

Kansas’ Water Vision Plan calls for a statewide conservation education program, reducing water use by 10% by 2035 and supports research to reclaim and reuse wastewater. How would this level of water conservation and reuse impact WaterOne’s fiscal health? Should we consider incentive-based conservation practices to help water utilities like they have assisted electrical utilities? What are the potential health effects of water reuse?  What can we learn from the recent study about the potential health effects of water reuse issued by the Kansas Health Institute?

Vote to the bottom of the ballot Nov. 7!  Elect Nurse Kay Heley for WaterOne Board, the only health care professional on the Board.

Jim Vader (incumbent)
The primary issues of Water 1 future operations is to continue to stay active with the Regional Conservation Partnership Program in monitoring the water shed problems upstream that would ultimately affect the quality of water at all water utilities downstream.

Position 5

Brenda Cherpitel (incumbent)
In the State of Kansas there are drastic differences in water issues.  Out west, farming communities are dependent upon the underground Ogallala Aquifer water resource.  It is being depleted and long term sustainability is a critical issue that must be addressed.  For the WaterOne area, we are very fortunate to have ample water resources, but our focus must be on water quality.  Upriver factors in the Milford, Perry, and Tuttle reservoirs are creating conditions for harmful algal blooms (Blue-Green Algae) in the Kansas River.  Sedimentation is also a concern in the Tuttle Reservoir specifically.
WaterOne has been one of the most active utilities engaged in addressing these problems through participation in the Governor’s 50 Year Water Vision.  This collaborative effort is working to identify strategies for studying and mitigating Blue-Green Algae and promoting streambank stabilization to prevent reservoir sedimentation.  WaterOne is also working with the Kansas Water Office and other utilities to form a Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) to work with landowners upstream of the Milford Reservoir to monitor and ensure its long term health.  While we are working at the state level to advocate and inform, we are also protecting our water supply by converting to the Ozone treatment process which is more effective in removing the algal toxins.  As a Board member, I will continue to advocate for our active participation in helping to address statewide issues, but my highest priority will be to protect the water supply for the people of Water District #1.

Jessica Skyfield
Water quality and quantity are broad issues, but are the crux of any water policy initiative.

WaterOne receives water that has traversed either the entire width of Kansas (Kansas River water) or multiple states (Missouri River water). While statewide policies will not affect the Missouri River’s water, our water from the Kansas River actually costs us less to utilize. However, this water typically has higher total dissolved solids and thus is initially of lower quality.

Since what happens to our water throughout the state affects the water we drink, I will focus on establishing partnerships with state agencies to improve the water quality in the Kansas River. I will work closely with the Kansas Farm Bureau, the Department of Agriculture-Water Resources Division, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment-Bureau of Water, and the Kansas Corporation Commission to implement regulations that improve both our water quality and our long-term water quantity.

Specific statewide issues that I plan to focus on are limiting agricultural run-off, establishing more stringent water rights and use guidelines for the oil and gas industry’s practices, and water reclamation in agricultural and industrial applications where possible.

John Snyder
The degradation of the Missouri River is one of the top issues effecting the community. However, we must also stay vigilant in protecting the quality and quantity of our water resources as we have seen in the past pesticides, lead, and other volatile chemicals have made there way into our homes. Along with the droughts of the past and future must be planned for accordingly to sustainably maintain water resources for present and future generations.