U.S. Water News Online
EXCELSIOR SPRINGS, Mo. -- A rural water district has filed
a federal lawsuit against about 30 residents living in a subdivision
in Excelsior Springs, escalating a fight over who should provide
water to the area.
The lawsuit accuses the residents of the upscale Vintage
subdivision of conspiring with the city to infringe on the district's
In response to the lawsuit, the city had been threatening to turn
off the subdivision's water, but a temporary injunction was filed to
keep the water flowing.
Loren and Janet Smart, who have lived in the subdivision for three
years, are among those sued by Clay County's Public Water Supply
District No. 8. They said they had no idea they lived in a water
district before being served with the lawsuit.
``They told us not to take it personally,'' Loren Smart said of
the suit. ``But it has my name and my wife's name on it as
defendants. I feel like they're harassing me.''
Similar struggles have led to lawsuits between districts and
cities throughout the country, affecting thousands in states such as
Missouri, Kansas, Alabama and North Carolina.
The tiny water districts cite a federal law they claim protects
them from encroaching cities as long as the districts still carry
federal debt. The districts might not serve the land yet, but they
say the land is theirs if they can put pipes in the ground ``within a
Already this year, water District No. 8 has spent about $121,200
in legal fees to preserve its boundaries -- and that is after
accruing debt in March of close to $1 million to make improvements
for its nearly 900 customers.
Water district board president Brian Lawrence argues ``if we allow
the city of Kearney and the city of Excelsior Springs to cream-skim
those properties,'' it will hurt the district's ability to serve
The district still owes about $221,500 on bonds issued when it was
formed in the 1970s, plus $960,000 more in ones issued this year.
In the 1930s, the federal government loaned millions of dollars to
establish district systems for rural areas. Congress passed a law to
guarantee that districts would maintain enough customers to pay back
``If districts lose customers, not only can they not pay their
federal loans back, but the cost of providing service increases for
the remaining customers,'' said Elizabeth Dietzmann, an attorney in
Rolla, who is a water district expert and advocate. ``It's simple
Cities argue the districts are not needed in areas where a city is
able to provide water.
``Their charter says their purpose is to serve patrons who don't
have water from any other source,'' said Kearney Mayor Bill Dane.
Some districts also think they should not serve city areas.
District No. 6 in Clay County has detached more than 2,000 acres
in the past few years for Kearney to annex, without legal fights.
``Water districts weren't formed to serve city lots,'' said Bill
Wilkerson, board president for District No. 6. ``They were formed to
serve rural areas where water was not available, and we believe
that's the way it should be.''
Kearney and Excelsior Springs officials say there was no need for
lawsuits, and definitely no need to involve residents.
``We weren't trying to take their territory,'' said Darren Hennen,
Excelsior Springs city manager. ``If they want all this territory, we
told them to come and get it. That's still the case.''
Vintage developer CHAP Land Co. LLC has filed a motion to detach
from the water district, and a judge ordered the city to continue
providing water until the detachment was decided.
``It wasn't a bluff,'' Hennen said of the threatened shutoff. ``It
is unfortunate that the district chose to bring a federal court
lawsuit asking the city be ordered to stop serving water to these
landowners when the district had no ability to serve them.''
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