Wichita needs to take the long view about its water supply, which means looking past the recent raindrops and blessedly high current level at Cheney Reservoir.
The City Council already has made ensuring water quantity the centerpiece of a proposed 1-cent sales tax increase heading toward the November ballot, with the most cost-effective option looking like a $250 million expansion of the Aquifer Storage and Recovery project at the Equus Beds including a new on-site reservoir.
And by reviving and broadening the rebate program inspired by last year’s unnerving drought, the City Council can encourage the community to make water conservation an all-weather habit.
Though the city didn’t overestimate the need for such a program, last year’s experience might have overestimated the immediate demand.
There were takers for only $400,000 of the $1 million approved last summer to provide citizens through 2013 with rebates for purchases of water-efficient dishwashers and clothes washers, low-flow toilets, irrigation controllers and rain barrels. More than 2,700 homeowners received rebates on more than 3,800 items purchased. Another try is worthwhile, especially given that it will be funded with the money left over from last year.
The agenda item at Tuesday’s City Council meeting calls for earmarking $450,000 for rebates that would be newly available to anybody who pays a city water bill, including business owners and renters. Excluding fixtures for new construction, the eligible purchases would expand to include water-efficient urinals and dual-flush converters for toilets as well as rain sensors for irrigation systems, with rebates ranging from $50 to $100 depending on the item. The 11 area communities that buy Wichita’s water wholesale again would have the option to participate. Rebates would be available retroactively, for purchases since Jan. 1.
Water savings from the 2013 rebate program are modest at best, estimated at just 0.25 million gallons a day and a 0.44 percent reduction in usage. Meaningful conservation will come via personal responsibility, as residents take steps to avoid watering their lawns in the rain, wind or blazing heat and to conserve as they shower, do laundry and otherwise.
What Wichita faces regarding water is complicated, with a big question pending about whether voters will opt to pay a higher sales tax to ensure the supply. But it’s a given that the city should be proactive about water conservation, in both promotion and practice.