Wichita officials seek to revive water-saving rebate program

06/07/2014 4:57 PM

08/06/2014 12:11 PM

Although Wichita may not be in as dire straits for water as it was a year ago, city officials want to bring back a rebate plan aimed at helping its customers save water.

Only this time, anyone who pays a water bill – including renters and businesses – would be eligible, city officials said.

On Tuesday, the City Council will vote on whether to authorize $450,000 for the rebate program.

The council approved $1 million a year ago for a similar plan that provided rebates for such things water-efficient appliances, low-flow toilets, irrigation controllers and rain barrels.

Money for this year’s program would come from the $600,000 that wasn’t spent last year, said Ben Nelson, strategy manager for public works and utilities.

Since last year was the first time the city had ever done rebates as part of its water conservation effort, “we were taking a shot in the dark about how big the pot should be,” Nelson said.

The $450,000 that would be allotted this year should be closer to covering the expected demand, even with expansion, he said.

More than 2,700 customers participated during the six months the plan was in effect last year, receiving rebates on more than 3,800 devices and appliances, according to a city document.

About 40 percent of the items were low-flow toilets, with rain barrels ranking second, Nelson said. Water-saving dishwashers and clothes washers also return to the proposed list of eligible items.

The program is estimated to save 250,000 gallons of water a day. That’s about 0.44 percent of the city’s total water usage.

Last year’s plan was limited to homeowners.

“We wanted to include everyone who pays a water bill this year,” Nelson said.

The program also would add three items – water-efficient urinals, rain sensors for irrigation systems and dual-flush converters that allow toilets to use less water when handling lighter volumes.

“We had folks from the plumbing board encourage us to add rain sensors,” Nelson said.

The urinals were added because the program would expand to include businesses, although there are water-saving urinals designed for homes.

As was the case last year, most items would be eligible for a $100 rebate. Rain barrels would be reimbursed up to $75 and dual-flush converters up to $50 – depending on the cost of the item.

If approved, the rebate program would begin July 1 and continue through the end of 2014 – or until the $450,000 is spent, Nelson said.

Rebates would be for eligible items purchased retroactive to January 1. Last year, when the plan was approved by the council in early June, the program was retroactive to May 1.

Rebates would be delivered through credits on water bills, Nelson said.

A year ago, the city faced severe water shortages after two years of drought. Cheney Reservoir’s conservation pool – where the city gets 60 percent of its water – was only 70 percent full.

Although Wichita is still 5.26 inches below normal rainfall this year as of Friday morning, Cheney’s conservation pool was more than 99 percent full.

“We’re not in an emergency situation like last year,” Nelson said, “but water conservation is still an important part of our long-term, sustainable water supply through 2060.”

More than 1,800 makes and models of toilets qualify for the program; along with nearly 500 dishwashers and 375 clothes washers.

The city also would again use part of the fund to provide money to Wichita’s wholesale water customers that set up a rebate program.

Five of the 11 eligible area communities took the city up on the offer last year. The amount they receive is based upon their percentage of Wichita’s sales.

For example, Derby accounts for 3.92 percent Wichita’s sales, so it received $39,200 out of last year’s $1 million fund. Since the pot would be smaller this year, Derby’s allotment would be $17,600.

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