No fanfare to be had for water department’s 100th
On Oct. 13, 1908, a major fire broke out on Oak Street, destroying nine Bonner Springs businesses and putting several others out of business.
According to an Oct. 15 article in the Chieftain, “The volunteer firemen and the little engine were quickly on the scene as was the ever ready bucket brigade, but the utter helplessness of the situation was made apparent when the hose was dropped into the first cistern — it was dry.”
The Chieftain reported the fire department in Kansas City, Kan., was wired for assistance, but its arrival came too late to prevent much of the damage.
“We have begged for waterworks,” the article said.
Though bids had already been made on a waterworks system before the fire, this event was enough of an impetus to turn the idea of running water in Bonner Springs into reality.
In January of 1909, the first test was made on a brand new, 50,000-gallon tank water system. This month, what has evolved into the city’s water utility celebrates its 100th anniversary.
Though no events have been scheduled to celebrate the event, City Manager Jack Helin said that “a 100th birthday is a big deal.” Certainly the water system is notable for not only bringing in the convenience of running water, but also for giving some credibility to a city that may not have survived without it.
“You gotta make that correlation,” said Rick Sailler, utilities director. “Without that source of drinking water and the modern convenience of getting it, you’d probably move.”
More importantly, said Mayor Clausie Smith, the waterworks system helped to bring in what a city needs most: people.
“It was a very important infrastructure item for the city,” Smith said. “It gave you the infrastructure you needed to support growth, both residential and commercial.”
The water department has suffered some losses since then, such as a devastating flood in 1951 that forced the department to change its location from one side of the Kaw River to the other, and expanded a great deal.
The current water system is made up of five wells and 60 miles of pipeline that supply an average of 1.123 million gallons of water per day to the areas of Bonner Springs, Rural Water District 7 and Wholesale District 6. Pipes have been added and lines have been replaced throughout the years, but Superintendent Dale Allen said the original structure of the water system has given the department a great foundation from which to build.
“The water line we replaced in Oak Street in 2003 was put in, in 1909, and it was still in good condition,” said Allen.
Sailler, who oversees the department, considers his job to be one of great responsibility.
“We’re responsible to make sure (the water) is up to standard and drinkable,” he said. “We’re responsible for people’s health, more or less.”
He wasn’t surprised, however, that more isn’t being made of the occasion.
“People just take it for granted,” Sailler said. “People don’t call us about water unless they have a problem. They get very mad, though, when we shut it off.”