Politics & Government

March 21, 2013

District 4 candidates focusing on water usage as top priority

Water – too much and not enough – is the centerpiece issue for two men vying for the District 4 spot on the Wichita City Council.

Water – too much and not enough – is the centerpiece issue for two men vying for the District 4 spot on the Wichita City Council.

Joshua Blick, 35, who owns LANKansas, a business connecting youths with technology, and Jeff Blubaugh, 40, a real estate broker and investor, agree that Wichita needs new water sources – without piling another significant water rate increase onto taxpayers. City officials learned late last month that Cheney Reservoir, source of 60 percent of the city’s water, will be out of water by August 2015 if the drought doesn’t break.

Blick and Blubaugh are vying for the remaining two years of former council member Michael O’Donnell’s term, representing much of south and southwest Wichita. O’Donnell was elected to the state Senate in November.

One water option the council is considering is raising rates between 50 and 113 percent for some of the city’s biggest users, such as gardeners, those watering lawns and private pool owners.

“That’s one of the major complaints, and they’ll shake their water bill in my face when I’m out there door-knocking,” Blubaugh said.

The time for voluntary water restrictions has passed, he said.

“Get a conservation practice out there right now in front of the people,” Blubaugh said. “If this drought continues, there’s no question in my mind we need to pump water in from El Dorado Lake” and put it into the Equus Beds, an underground source of water north of Wichita.

Blick said City Hall must look inward and impose water conservation on itself before it can credibly ask residents to conserve.

“We have to have a game plan,” he said. “We have some in place, but we weren’t expecting a major drought for two years.”

He stood behind the city’s ongoing search for water sources and said the city should look at the use of gray water – wastewater from household uses, like showers, sinks, washers and tubs – for lower-priority uses such as golf course irrigation.

Both men said they are open to the city’s efforts to improve and draw more water from the Equus Beds.

But both also said the district’s constituents can’t absorb any further water rate increases.

For Blick, too much water – flooding along Meridian, in Auburn Hills and in the Dell – also is a District 4 issue that the city must focus on.

Blubaugh, a Goddard School Board member with a background in aviation, real estate and management, said jobs and the economy are other crucial issues before District 4. He touts diversifying the economy beyond aviation as a key to growing Wichita.

Blubaugh doesn’t oppose public-private partnerships, saying each request for city business incentives should be viewed on its own merits. But he emphasizes other business recruitment resources, such as the city’s partnership with the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition.

“The citizens feel like the city has left them behind,” he said. “They’ve lived in that neighborhood for 40 years, and now there’s crime moving in. Every neighbor can point out every foreclosure in that neighborhood. Their water bills are going up. They think the gangs are moving in. They can tell me the drug dealers on the street. Especially in the south Wichita area, it’s just humbling to hear what these people are going through, and they want to make sure they have a voice and people can save their neighborhoods.”

Blick, a longtime community activist and District 4 advisory board member, said his constituents feel neglected by the city.

He thinks the new District 4 council member must be an advocate for the best business conditions possible to recruit new businesses while also championing a well-trained workforce.

“From council members prior, it’s been kind of a stepping stone,” he said. “Or it’s been kind of neglected as in there hasn’t been the passion for someone invested in the community to go after the needs of the citizens.”

The people in District 4 want jobs and street improvements, Blick said.

“It’s all about pulling them together and letting their voices be heard,” he said.

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