April 6, 2014

City Council to hear study on options for future water supply

The Wichita City Council will get its first look on Tuesday at what the city’s water supply future might look like.

The Wichita City Council will get its first look on Tuesday at what the city’s water supply future might look like.

Public works officials are scheduled to present several options for a new long-term water source during a workshop following Tuesday’s council meeting. The options were still being fine-tuned late last week.

Prior to the public works study, council members were considering a wide variety of options, from completing the city’s Equus Beds recharge project northwest of Wichita to reusing water from the sewage treatment plant.

The Equus Beds groundwater aquifer is being drained by the city of Wichita and other municipal and agricultural users faster than the $240 million recharge project would be able to replenish it even if completed. So City Council members are considering where the costly project fits into the long-term water supply it was supposed to provide.

The recharge project takes water out of the Little Arkansas River, treats it to remove farm chemicals and other pollutants and stores it in the aquifer for later use. The project is only partially finished.

One question is whether to finish the aquifer project, involving Phases 3 and 4, which some council members say could cost $300 million, potentially driving the total tab to more than a half-billion dollars.

Two options seem to have more current traction at City Hall: reusing water from the sewage treatment plant or buying raw water from El Dorado Lake. But the price tag for those two is at least $150 million each, according to city officials.

Financing a new water supply is the biggest reason council members might ask voters to approve a 1-cent sales tax increase, perhaps as early as November.

And currently, the state of Kansas doesn’t have any regulations in place for turning treated water from sewage treatment plants into drinking water.

Finding a new water supply, and creating jobs to replace the 30,000 jobs lost during the 2008 recession, were the two top priorities targeted by about 2,000 Wichitans during a public engagement process that ran through much of 2013. Council members also are weighing several quality-of-life projects, potentially as part of the sales tax vote or funded through the city’s 10-year capital improvements plan.

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