Contingencies for drought, an update on the request to use Stockton Lake to meet demand for water in Southwest Missouri, and plans for a new reservoir south of Joplin will be topics at the annual conference of the Tri-State Water Resource Coalition next week.

The organization, which originated in Joplin in 2003 and has grown into a 16-county footprint, is studying demand for water in Southwest Missouri as well as sources of supply now and in the future, said Gail Melgren, executive director.

A number of studies have concluded that cities and towns in the region could be at risk of a water shortage based on projected population growth and a prolonged drought.

"There is a natural cycle of wet and dry, and it is inevitable we are going to fall into another dry period. It's nature's way. It's inevitable we will fall into another serious drought," Melgren said. "Our job is to make sure we have adequate water supplies when the next big drought hits."

A Missouri Department of Natural Resources study also projects that the total population in Jasper and Newton counties will grow to 220,000 residents by 2030.

"In terms of water planning, a decade is a very short increment of time," Melgren added.

Joplin, Lamar, Neosho, Branson and Springfield are the only municipalities in Southwest Missouri with access to surface water. Joplin and Neosho obtain most of their water from Shoal Creek, though both communities supplement their water supply with an aquifer.

Springfield's water supply is boosted by water from Stockton Lake — similar to the plan the coalition is pursuing for the region.

The group has asked the Army Corps of Engineers to study the possibility of allocating up to 39 million gallons of water per day from Stockton Lake to meet demand for water in the future.

Stockton Lake has become the coalition's current focus but not its only one.

"It's our first priority additional source," Melgren said. "We also are interested in Table Rock Lake and Pomme De Terre as additional long-term water supply sources, and we will be moving requests for those as well. Their analysis is behind the analysis for Stockton."

Melgren said a draft report on what is called the reallocation study by the Corps is expected by the end of the year, with the final report available next year.

"At this point, we should have answers next spring — April, May or June, we should have our answer, 'Yes' or 'No,'" Melgren said.

If approved, the overall cost of using Stockton Lake as a future water source for communities in Southwest Missouri, including infrastructure to pipe the water, could reach $1 billion. That cost would be spread across as many as 800,000 people in the region over a period of 30 years, or about $41 per person per year.

Melgren said other topics for the conference will be:

• A presentation from Matt Barnhart, senior operations manager for Missouri American in Southwest Missouri, on drought preparedness and the status of a 1,500-acre off-stream reservoir planned south of Joplin next to Shoal Creek. Missouri American, which provides drinking water for Joplin, has begun the steps to build the reservoir, and is in the process of applying for a Corps' permit that would authorize the reservoir for proposed water storage. The reservoir also could be used for storage of Stockton Lake water if that allocation is ultimately approved.

The water company has identified the site for the reservoir, and notified landowners in that area, but said completion of the project is still several years away.

Christie Barnhart, external affairs manager for Missouri American, said this week that reservoir design and permitting now is forecast to go through 2022, and that the majority of the land acquisition will take place from 2022-2024.

The projected in-service year for the reservoir is now 2026, but she noted that could change.

• A panel discussion of the policies and funding opportunities that need to be in place in order for communities in the region to move forward with developing water supplies. Joplin Mayor Gary Shaw; Springfield Mayor Ken McClure; and Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, chairman of the House Budget Committee for the Missouri House of Representatives, will be on the panel.

• Models and discussion for severe drought planning, including a presentation from the Little Rock office of the Corps, and solutions being developed by Oklahoma communities.

• There also will be a discussion on infrastructure challenges faced by smaller communities led by Leland Butcher, former Neosho city manager.

The annual conference is held each year in Springfield. This year's conference runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 10, at the Darr Agricultural Center on the campus of Missouri State University in Springfield. The cost to attend is $99.

Andy Ostmeyer is the metro editor at the Globe. His email address is aostmeyer@joplinglobe.com.

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