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WaterWalk fountains may not be turned on this summer due to water shortage

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, May 5, 2013, at 10:42 a.m.
  • Updated Sunday, May 5, 2013, at 10:46 a.m.

The drought and resulting water shortage may idle the city’s $3.5 million WaterWalk Waltzing Waters fountain system — and other city fountains — this spring and summer, city officials said Friday.

Water use across all city operations is under review, City Manager Robert Layton said.

“Nothing will be determined until the mayor and city council review the recommended drought plan and approve a course of action,” Layton said Friday in an e-mail. “In the meantime, the Water Walk fountains will not be activated.”

The fountains, which incorporate 150-foot-high streams of water synchronized to lights and music, are located east of Gander Mountain. They had sat in storage since 2009, as the WaterWalk master plan underwent changes. They were unveiled last fall and operated until shutting down for the winter. The announced schedule called for daily shows at 12:30 p.m., 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. from April through December.

The city’s price tag for the fountain mechanics is $1.6 million, with the remaining $1.9 million to finalize the development. They are part of a larger $41-million development agreement between the city and WaterWalk, owned by longtime Wichita developer Jack DeBoer.

City officials are readying a water conservation plan for residential and commercial users, the first step to confront a water shortage. Cheney Reservoir, the source of 60 percent of the city’s water, could dry up by mid-2015 if the drought continues, city officials say. If that happens, the city will no longer have enough water to meet demand.

The first step in any water conservation plan is cutting consumption in-house, Layton said earlier this year, after an in-depth examination of city water use. Last year, the city used about 464 million gallons and pumped out 20.1 billion to all utility customers, according to public works records. The city accounted for about 2.3 percent of usage last year.

Included in the possible fountain cuts are the interactive fountains used by children, Layton confirmed.

City officials also are studying reports of water loss at the WaterWalk fountains, part of the broader in-house conservation study, city public works director Alan King said.

“Water conservation at the WaterWalk fountains is one of several items in the plan,” King said. “There are a few options on reducing water loss at the fountains that are being considered.”

More information should be available next week on the future of the fountains this summer, King said.

The city is considering a variety of solutions to the water shortage, including the conservation plan, buying water from El Dorado Lake and taking more water from the Equus Beds Aquifer. One option to encourage conservation — an option roundly criticized by city council members — is a punitive water pricing plan that would raise rates on big water users by at least 50 percent.

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com.

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