June 11, 2013

City Council agrees to turn on decorative fountains this summer

Wichita’s 12 decorative fountains will flow again this summer.

Wichita’s 12 decorative fountains will flow again this summer.

The City Council agreed on a 5-1 vote Tuesday to amend the city’s water conservation plan so that the decorative fountains will be turned on. The plan had called for leaving those fountains off as part of initiatives to save the city more than 40 million gallons of water annually as the drought lingers.

“I think we have an opportunity to send a message to the public that you can use water and still be responsible,” council member James Clendenin said in supporting the amendment.

All of the city’s 18 fountains have been off this year because of the drought.

The city’s plan addressed a number of measures, including use of the fountains. The council stuck with the plan to have the five interactive fountains and Waltzing Waters fountain at WaterWalk on but for reduced amounts of time.

Leaving the decorative fountains off would have saved 1.26 million gallons annually. Most council members contended that amount wasn’t worth it, saying dry fountains would damage the city’s image in terms of quality of life and vibrancy.

With the decorative fountains operating, the plan is estimated to save about 42.5 million gallons annually. About 38 million of that comes from allowing the grass on city-owned land – except athletic fields and golf courses – to go dormant and to not cut the grass as short to provide shade for the roots.

Lavonta Williams voted against the amended plan, saying that leaving the fountains on sends a message that the city isn’t doing all it can to conserve water.

Council member Janet Miller also opposed turning on the decorative fountains, but she didn’t stay for the vote because she wasn’t feeling well.

Before leaving, she said, “If it continues to rain, we’ll be in tall cotton. If it doesn’t continue to rain, we’ll be in dire straits this time next year and we’ll be wishing we had saved every drop of water.”

She also said it was about the message being sent to the public.

“If we use water on decorative fountains,” Miller said, “it’s not very convincing to them when we ask them to save a few gallons at home.”

Although she acknowledged the decorative fountains are important to the city’s image, she added, “Remember, those fountains are off seven months of the year. I don’t think having them off one season will matter.”

Council member Jeff Longwell, however, said cities recruiting businesses are already using Wichita’s water troubles as an edge.

Information requested by council member Pete Meitzner showed that all water usage was down 29 percent in May 2013 from May 2012.

“I would have thought 10 percent would have been a monstrous achievement,” he said. “It’s a compliment to our community. The message (to conserve) has been received.”

The annual water savings doesn’t include some parts of the plan that are still in developing stages – such as using a pump station’s cooling water to irrigate Botanica Gardens – or are being done as pilot programs.

The latter includes plans to reduce how often fire hydrants are tested and using waterless street sweepers. Those measures will be taken but then pulled very quickly if they aren’t working, City Manager Robert Layton said.

Layton said he will keep the council updated on other developments to save water. By August, the council will see a proposal for converting all fescue grass to Bermuda.

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