By Tom Wilbur
Contributing Editor/The Salina Post
Here’s a fundamental for you– water is a basic—a necessity of life. Somehow, in God’s plan for our lives, he designed us in a way that water is a primary ingredient in our bodies, and we obviously must have it on a regular basis— or we will perish. Water flows in abundance to many areas of the country naturally, and typically population centers develop where sources of water are plentiful. When the water dries up, people and other living creatures must migrate away.
In Kansas, water has become a major issue. Rural areas from western North Dakota to west Texas have experienced an ongoing drought for many years. The aquifers that our farmers need to irrigate their crops and provide food to the masses have been diminishing. In some cases it takes multiple decades for an aquifer to re-charge, even when water is plentiful at the surface— and we’re using water at a faster rate in many areas of Kansas than the larger aquifers can replenish themselves. Manufacturing plants looking to move to Kansas are always interested in our resources, our people, and whether water is readily available for their operations.
You can’t operate very many manufacturing processes, for example, without available water. We can’t open our new Salina Family Aquatic Center in the park without water. Our town would be unable to grow or prosper, without a reasonable supply of water.
In Salina, we have no major bodies of water nearby. Oh, there’s Kanopolis, and occasionally they open the gates and let a little water gush through for us—although that doesn’t seem to be an automatic deal (based upon my observation of the trickle of water I saw where our river used to be a couple of years ago). The closest thing we have to a dependable water source is the rain. And the droughts we’ve had in some recent summers have shown us how vulnerable we are as a community to the lack of rain. We had serious water rationing— and did you notice how quickly people were getting testy around here? What have we done since to remedy the situation?
The last time we had one of those extended downpours in the area, my wife and I drove around the outskirts of Salina and there was water everywhere— flooding in fact—particularly in areas West of I-135 and North of Crawford Street. It got us to thinking—why wouldn’t Salina make plans to develop one of those ‘shovel ready’ projects we’ve all heard about, and capture the flood in a well-constructed and well-thought out lake? I even have a very cool name for it. Lake Wilbur. And I’m guessing we’re practically shovel ready now, Salina—we just need some tractors and graders— so let’s get out there and dig the hole—let’s go, go, go!
I’m kidding about the name (kind of) but not the concept. And I understand the harsh reality that we can’t just build it tomorrow. There are probably lots of government rules and regulations for building a very nice lake. But conceptually developing a plan for a Salina lake might have value, eh? A beautiful lake west of town in an area that is already low lying and susceptible to floods would be an incredible addition to our community, and should provide big economic benefits to Salina. Many of my friends and co-workers (whom I amicably refer to as ‘lake people’) love going to area reservoirs with their families and friends. When they get there, they enjoy boating, water skiing, camping, an open fire, the sunshine, the bugs, and the joys of observing other lake people. It’s in their blood. A big lake near Salina would provide an influx of visitors to our general area and would generate an injection of dollars to our economy. It would probably provide a good number of new jobs for our community.
Further, when the droughts come and the water is scarce, Salina would have a source of water to provide to its citizenry, to keep us safe. It would be a backup source of water to provide hydration to our crops, wildlife, and to our people. It could be a fun addition to the Salina area in terms of recreation. And if we’d let enough water spew forth from our lake every once in a while, maybe it would provide the necessary velocity of water power to keep our river clean, too. There’s value to having our own lake, at every level, it seems to me.
I would urge our Saline County commissioners, Salina city commissioners, the Corp of Engineers, Jerry Moran and Sam Brownback, the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce, and yes, even the Air Force and National Guard, to think seriously about my lake—excuse me, our lake. I don’t have a clue what it takes to build a lake. But I’m providing the spark—and I think the vision of having a nice big lake near Salina makes sense. Of course, the only way that a lake will be built is if people like you show interest, and get out there and support the idea.
Grab your signs and join me as we march on city hall— “We want Lake Wilbur!”
(I’m flexible on the name, although that is a good one.)
Go get ‘em team.
Tom Wilbur is President/CEO of BANK VI in Salina. He is a lifelong resident of Salina, and has been a regular editorial contributor to newspapers and magazines, and a public speaker. He would not be considered to be a ‘lake person’ but is willing to learn. He can be contacted at email@example.com.