Wichita officials will roll out options for the city’s water future on Tuesday – options that would increase water bills but that they say will protect the city against severe drought through 2060.
Public works officials will present a preliminary report on water conservation and supply to the City Council on Tuesday in a workshop following the regular City Council meeting. No decisions are expected in the workshop, with further discussion slated next month.
“It’s been a lot of effort internally and externally, from a lot of sources,” Vice Mayor Pete Meitzner said about the report. “Everybody cares about water.”
Public works director Alan King and Ben Nelson, the director of strategic services for the city, said the options are based on limiting rate increases while maintaining workable city debt and protecting the city against drought without imposing major conservation measures.
The options include a system of river bank storage wells, varying stages of improvements to the city’s aquifer recharge project northwest of Wichita, buying raw and treated water from El Dorado and a sophisticated water reuse program based on a reverse osmosis treatment plant estimated to cost $800 million. Each option will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, either in city debt or in a sales tax increase that voters may be asked to approve.
All include varying degrees of public water conservation, from rebates for water-efficient appliances to banning all outdoor watering, King said. Reducing future demand is a good thing, he said, but if current water demand drops, the city would lose up to $1 billion in revenue over the next 40 years.
“What we’re trying to do is select the type of conservation we consider to be economically favorable,” he said.
Meitzner said the public’s conservation response last summer indicates people would be willing partners in any long-term water plan.
“I was very impressed,” he said. “Immediately, we had something like 30 percent less use of water every month when people were more conscious of it. ... Even today, we’re still using less water than the same time the previous year.”
Wichita now gets its water from Cheney Reservoir and wells in the Equus Beds aquifer north of the city. But the city needs an additional source of water to continue to grow and provide water during periods of severe drought.
Council members can choose one of the options, combine the options or send the issue back to city staff members for more study.
Public works officials will recommend five key options:
Meitzner said he’s encouraged about the report and the opportunity to protect the city for decades against major drought.
“When I was told we had a 50-year water supply and I asked, ‘Where’s that document?’ and I was told we have a 50-year water supply if there isn’t a drought,” he said. “It’s important we have these other sources – a new reservoir in El Dorado, reuse, ASR, whatever it’s going to be.”