Wichita, El Dorado in informal talks about water purchase, sources say

The cities of Wichita and El Dorado have opened informal talks about the purchase of water from El Dorado Lake, according to an El Dorado city official.

Kurt Bookout, El Dorado’s director of public utilities, confirmed the talks.

Three Wichita city sources – speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid affecting the process – confirmed that the talks have begun. They stopped short of calling the talks actual “negotiations,” saying the two cities are fairly far apart.

The main difference, according to the Wichita officials, is the type of water Wichita would buy. El Dorado wants to sell the city potable water – suitable for drinking – and the city wants to buy water to use in its Equus Beds groundwater recharge project. Potable water would be too expensive to inject back into the city’s Equus Beds Aquifer Storage and Recovery Project.

“I want to be a good neighbor to Wichita, a good regional neighbor,” El Dorado Mayor Mike Fagg said. “Good neighbors talk, and we’re not sitting over here in El Dorado saying we’re not going to sell you water.”

The discussions come in the wake of the February disclosure by Wichita officials that Cheney Lake – which delivers about 60 percent of the city’s water supply – could cease supplying that water in August 2015 if the drought continues.

El Dorado officials attended the late February workshop where Wichita public works officials first went public with the pending water shortage.

Wichita officials have a public meeting at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at City Hall with their community water advisory committee, which will analyze the results from six public meetings seeking suggestions on how to handle the water shortage.

The committee is expected to craft recommendations that will be considered by the City Council on June 4.

Wichita officials are looking at a variety of options to address the water shortage, including conservation measures to provide a short-term solution.

However, Wichita Vice Mayor Pete Meitzner and council member Jeff Longwell, among others, have advocated for more long-term enhancement of the city’s water supply, such as buying water from El Dorado Lake and/or drawing more water from the Equus Beds.

One option before the city is a $5 million retooling of the wells in the aquifer recharge project, which would allow Wichita to withdraw more water from the aquifer. It isn’t clear what the project costs would be for transporting water from El Dorado to Wichita.

Bookout said El Dorado, through a contract with the federal government, has enough water to sell from the lake to serve about 220,000 people. Through its own use and other contracts, El Dorado now uses enough to serve about 30,000 people, Bookout said.

A study for El Dorado by Black and Veatch, a global engineering firm, indicates that the lake could deliver potable water to Wichita within two years, Bookout said. Wichita officials had first worried that any water from El Dorado would take five years to get here.

“We believe that between our lake and Wichita’s recharge project, we have the basis for a long-term water supply for the region,” Bookout said.