On Tuesday, July 5, members of the Galatia City Council met to finish sorting out how the Northern Barton County city will move forward with water sales to farmers and industry after one farmer was denied a request to purchase water for spraying his crops in May.
Galatia City Councilman David Strecker took up Jerry Morgenstern’s cause at the June meeting, and was surprised to meet resistance from Galatia Mayor Steve Wilhelm, who for many years has been the code keeper to Galatia’s city well. Requests for water contracts have been fielded through him also.
As reported in the Friday, July 1 edition of The Great Bend Tribune, Strecker brought his concerns to the newspaper. He said the reasons given by Wilhelm at that meeting included statements against farmers and no-till practices.
“Since this occurred during an official city council meeting I am deeply disturbed and concerned that our mayor would leverage his authority like this without consulting the city council first,” Strecker had said.
Wilhelm addressed the issue at hand, providing a brief history of how Galatia came to possess the well, and how much water the city is allowed to access. There is a guaranteed allotment of 350,000 gallons the city can use each year for the purposes of fighting fires, and in drought years for emergency livestock water. In addition, Wilhelm has worked with the state to acquire 5-year term contracts over the years for an additional 7 million gallons, which can be used for both oilfield and agricultural use.
In years where the oilfield has been high, Wilhelm said the city has taken in as much as $50,000 in a year for oilfield water contracts. But in recent years, demand has admittedly been down. Still, he opined, the oilfield has been good to the city, as well as several farmers in the area who would not be doing as well without their help over the years. The current 5-year term contract with the state is in effect until 2019.
“This time, I was just tired of trying to figure out who was getting water and who was not paying for water,” he said. He added that 6,000 gallons of water is unaccounted for this year, apparently stolen.
He presented two solutions to the problem. The first was to stop selling water altogether and only contract the 350,000 gallons in the guaranteed contract. The second was to set up an automatic water sales machine. After checking around, he found one company from Gypsum, Kans., Vernor Manufacturing, that makes a unit. They have contracts with several communities around the country, including Bunker Hill, who have been satisfied with the system, he said.
It consists of a currency box which accepts currency from $1 to $20. It also includes a street side box and a unit that automatically drains for coldweather protection. Altogether, the cost will be $5,475. An additional $1,000 was suggested for installation.
Wilhelm added he had one concern with the system, that it might open the city up to liability because the water is not potable. He noted that Strecker had brought up water testing results in a previous communication, but those, he said, were from Rural Water, and were not applicable to the well. The untreated well water has been tested too high in nitrates in the past for human consumption, but in acceptable levels for livestock. He also added that testing for glyphosate or pesticide residues is beyond the scope of the testing, and is too expensive even for the state to conduct.
“But no-till farming has nothing to do with the city, so I will drop it right there,” he said.
The City of Russell charges $20 per 1,000 gallons of water, and Wilhelm suggested Galatia do the same. Currently, the city only charges $10 per 1,000 gallons. For comparison, Morgenstern said Rural Water charges him $47 per 1,000 gallons.
After further discussion about signage, how to warn the public the water is not potable, and what security measures might be necessary to protect the new system from vandals and thieves, the council approved a motion to move forward with the purchase and installation of the system.
After controversy erupted in June, Wilhelm changed the code on the well, he said, and no water had been sold in that time. He added the city has one water contract, but that person did not inquire about purchasing since that time.
Morgenstern, who commented that the automatic water sales solution was better than he had expected, asked that in the interim, Wilhelm resume water sales at the previous rate and asked that the city extend a purchase contract to him. Wilhelm was hesitant, but the council approved a motion to approve Morgenstern’s application in advance and to resume water sales.
Wilhelm was not certain how soon the system will be operational, but felt it could be as early as sometime in August.
Other items of discussion at the meeting included an explanation of what circumstances make tree removal the responsibility of the city instead of the homeowner, and the budget for the upcoming year.
The next meeting of the Galatia City Council will be on Tuesday, August at 8 p.m. at the city office, located half a block west of the Galatia Volunteer Fire Department office located on the corner of Main St. and ....name of street.