A letter of intent to purchase four -million gallons of water every month from a proposed water district was approved by the Columbus City Council Monday evening.

“With the brine water coming in (to the aquifer) from the west this is a very important project,” City Administrator Evan Capron told the council. “We currently purchase four million gallons a month from the Bone Creek District. This would be another very important source of water for the city.”

A project to build a water-treatment plant and distribution system to supply rural water districts in Cherokee County has been discussed for 14 years.

Now with the federal stimulus money in the offing it appears the project might be ready to proceed.

“This is one of those “shovel ready” projects that is ready to go,” said Council Member Gary Smith.

The wholesale district would sell water to the city of Columbus at a cost of $5 per 1,000 gallons, or less if more members joined or agreed to purchase more water.

This would mean we would be buying one-third, from Bone Creek; one-third from the new district and the final third would be pumped from the Columbus wells, said Smith.

“The one thing I question is the four-million gallons per month, I wonder if it could be an average of four million gallons, say two million gallons in the winter months and six million gallons in the summer months. This is the way we buy our water from Bone Creek.”

Capron had said the water would cost a maximum of $5 per thousand gallons. The contract calls for the price to be set at $5 per thousand gallons. The city is currently paying Bone Creek Water District $3.50 for the four million gallon they purchase there.

Council member Dana Wellmeier told the council members the new district would prefer the council sign a contract, rather than a letter of intent. 

The wholesale district is seeking a 40-year commitment from the rural water districts, cities and towns that join. Seeking contracts for participants to buy a minimum amount of water.

In an emergency Columbus or any other participant could buy additional gallons at the same rate. Columbus could buy up to four million additional gallons.

A motion by Smith that the city send a letter of intent to purchase the four million was approved by the council with only Council member Grant Spieth voting against the motion.

“The one thing you don’t want to do is sit around and get left out,” said Councilmember John Paradee.

An $11.4 million treatment plant is proposed on a 12-acre site where Shawnee Creek enters Spring River near Riverton.

At a recent meeting of potential customers Baxter Springs city officials offered an optional plan, suggesting their city would serve as the backup supply for the wholesale district, but they said they would prefer to simply supply the water for the district from the town’s water-treatment plant.

Baxter Springs Mayor Huey York said their plant is designed to handle 2.5 million gallons of water per day.

Katie Tietsort, water commissioner with the Kansas Division of Water Resources, said Baxter Springs has senior water rights on Spring River. She said the town has 100 million gallons of water per year available from Spring River that it isn’t using.

Epler said he would have more discussions with Baxter Springs officials about options.