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Lawrence must truck 10 million gallons of contaminated water

Posted 1:04 p.m. Saturday
Updated 1:05 p.m. Saturday

— The city of Lawrence faces the need to truck 10 million gallons of nitrogen-contaminated water away from the former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant, while also dealing with increased water storage at the site and lower-than-expected earnings on a trust fund that was set up to pay for remediation efforts.

The city sought bids to test and move enough water to fill 15 Olympic-sized swimming pools and distribute it to area farmers to fertilize their land, The Lawrence Journal-World reported.

"Ten million gallons and trucking is not going to be inexpensive, by at least my standards, but we'll try to do it as effectively as we can and minimize it," said Director of Utilities Dave Wagner.

A pipeline had been running the water from the site across the Kansas River to distribute to farmers north of Lawrence. But improvements in the pumping station caused increased water collection at a time when farmers were using less water from the pipe.

The city has owned the 467-acre plant site since 2010, with plans to convert it to a business park. The city received an $8.6 million trust fund and signed a contract with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to accept responsibility for cleaning up decades of nitrogen fertilizer spills that contaminated the groundwater.

Because the storage is near capacity, the state authorized the city to turn off its pumping system for at least six months and increase testing to make sure contaminated water doesn't leave the property and contaminate drinking water.

Wagner said testing of wells at the edge of the property will be increased to ensure the nitrogen-tainted water is contained within the site while the pumping station is shut off.

When the city took over the site, cleanup was expected to cost at least $13 million. The city planned to reduce the costs with the land sales, savings from using city crews instead of contractors to run the water system and interest generated from the trust fund. But it has not worked out that way.

City Manager Tom Markus said in August that interest projections for the fund were overly optimistic. He said during a period when the trust was supposed to generate $1.3 million in interest it generated only $150,000.

Turning off the pumps and trucking the water is a short-term solution. The city is developing a request for proposals for consultant services to assess the program and identify a long-range solution.

The bids for the trucking and application contract for the nitrogen water were due Friday and are expected to go before the commission next month.

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