Wichita council tables final approval of drought plan

Wichita won’t have a plan to battle water shortages for at least another week, after the City Council tabled final approval of a drought plan for at least a week.

City officials want to fine-tune the drought plan to give vegetable gardeners options to grow during water shortages. So staffers will spend the next week researching ways to keep drip irrigation systems – the controlled delivery of water to plants through piping – operational through all but water emergencies. Public works director Alan King told the council that the proposed four-stage drought plan doesn’t differentiate between types of irrigation. Final recommendations are expected at next week’s council meeting.

“I might suggest that we add some kind of language for those types of opportunities – community gardens, people growing their own food,” council member Jeff Longwell said. “I would think we’d want to address that.”

“It’s concerning to me, too,” council member James Clendenin added. “My thought is that at least in stage 3, we be able to still allow irrigation if you’re irrigating a certain way. Although, I don’t know how you’d police that.

“But if we’re at 35 percent in Cheney (a water emergency), I don’t think you need to address that situation.”

The proposed four-stage plan would be triggered at each stage by average yearly conservation pool levels at Cheney Reservoir, a primary water source for the city. It still contains some hefty fines – up to $500 for repeat violators – but stops short of the controversial $1,000 fine proposed by city staff for over-users last spring.

The stages include:

• Voluntary conservation – Triggered when the 12-month Cheney water level average moves below 90 percent. No penalties or mandatory restrictions. The city will offer rebates to encourage conservation, and a multi-faceted public marketing campaign will be launched to raise drought awareness. The water conservation measures lauched last summer by the city would continue.

• Mandatory restrictions – Triggered when the 12-month Cheney water level average moves below 70 percent. Customers will be restricted to one day a week of outdoor water use, only during the coolest part of the day from 8 p.m. to 10 a.m. First -time violators would receive a warning, followed by penalties of $50 and $100. Businesses generating economic activity directly from outdoor watering, like golf courses, car washes and greenhouses, would be exempt. City fountains would remain operational.

• Irrigation bans – Triggered when the 12-month Cheney water level average drops below 50 percent. All outdoor water usage would be prohibited, except for businesses exempted under mandatory restrictions. Violators would receive a warning after the first infraction, followed by penalties from $250 to $500. The city would rush all repairs to water main breaks and irrigation leaks, and would cut the operating hours at public fountains.

• Declaration of a water emergency – Triggered when the 12-month Cheney water level average moves below 35 percent. All outdoor watering, including by businesses, would be prohibited. All customers would be ordered to decrease their indoor usage by 15 percent, except for areas hospitals. Penalties would range from a warning to a $500 penalty, with a flow restrictor installed on the water meters of three-time violators. All city fountains would be shut off.

King said that water levels remain good at Cheney this month, at about 98 percent in the conservation pool. As a result, the city is drawing a little more of its drinking water than ususal from the lake “to create a hole that we expect to fill with the rains this winter.”

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