Wichita officials will roll out options for the city’s water future on Tuesday – options that would increase water bills but that they say will protect the city against severe drought through 2060.
Public works officials will present a preliminary report on water conservation and supply to the City Council on Tuesday in a workshop following the regular City Council meeting. No decisions are expected in the workshop, with further discussion slated next month.
“It’s been a lot of effort internally and externally, from a lot of sources,” Vice Mayor Pete Meitzner said about the report. “Everybody cares about water.”
Public works director Alan King and Ben Nelson, the director of strategic services for the city, said the options are based on limiting rate increases while maintaining workable city debt and protecting the city against drought without imposing major conservation measures.
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The options include a system of river bank storage wells, varying stages of improvements to the city’s aquifer recharge project northwest of Wichita, buying raw and treated water from El Dorado and a sophisticated water reuse program based on a reverse osmosis treatment plant estimated to cost $800 million. Each option will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, either in city debt or in a sales tax increase that voters may be asked to approve.
All include varying degrees of public water conservation, from rebates for water-efficient appliances to banning all outdoor watering, King said. Reducing future demand is a good thing, he said, but if current water demand drops, the city would lose up to $1 billion in revenue over the next 40 years.
“What we’re trying to do is select the type of conservation we consider to be economically favorable,” he said.
Meitzner said the public’s conservation response last summer indicates people would be willing partners in any long-term water plan.
“I was very impressed,” he said. “Immediately, we had something like 30 percent less use of water every month when people were more conscious of it. ... Even today, we’re still using less water than the same time the previous year.”
Wichita now gets its water from Cheney Reservoir and wells in the Equus Beds aquifer north of the city. But the city needs an additional source of water to continue to grow and provide water during periods of severe drought.
Council members can choose one of the options, combine the options or send the issue back to city staff members for more study.
Public works officials will recommend five key options:
• River bank storage wells. A series of wells would be installed to capture water from the Arkansas River downstream of the city’s sewage treatment plant. The plan would yield 30,000 acre-feet a year, or roughly 9.8 billion gallons, of water, three-fourths of the city’s entire Equus Beds groundwater rights, protecting the city against drought through 2077. An acre-foot is enough water to provide four Wichita households with water for a year. Price tag is $418 million, plus $17 million annually, primarily in operating electricity, temporarily raising water rates by 45 percent with a $250 million capital investment by the city.
• Optimizing the city’s Equus Beds groundwater project. Existing Phase 2 facilities would be expanded by drilling 30 new wells to match injection capabilities with the 30 million gallons per day capability of the treatment plan, with city officials acknowledging the project doesn’t generate the amount of water expected. The plan would yield 8,000 acre-feet of water, or 2.6 billion gallons, protecting the city through 2024. It would necessitate severe water conservation by the public to extend the city’s drought protection through 2060: “the maximum we think is even possible,” King said. Price tag is $198 million, plus $1.6 million in annual operating costs, temporarily raising water rates 2 percent with a $198 million capital investment by the city.
• Raw water from El Dorado Lake. A pipeline would be run from the lake to transport raw water to the surface water treatment plant at the Equus Beds project. The water would be stored in the aquifer for later use. The plan would yield 14,000 acre-feet of water, or 4.5 billion gallons, protecting the city against drought through 2036. It would require a “very doable” public commitment to water conservation – less than the water saved by the city’s appliance rebate program in 2013 – to extend the drought protection through 2060. Price tag is $367 million, with $4.2 million in annual operating costs, raising water rates 22 percent with a $250 million capital investment by the city.
• The “purple pipe” system. A distribution system would serve 18 industrial and 13 high-irrigation customers with nonpotable water – treated but unsuitable for drinking. The plan would yield 2,500 acre-feet of water, or 815 million gallons, but offers no protection to the city against drought. It would require draconian conservation measures, including the gradual elimination of outdoor watering. Price tag is $120 million, with $1.7 million in annual operating costs, raising water rates 2.1 percent with a $120 million capital investment by the city.
• Treated water from El Dorado Lake. The city of El Dorado has offered treated water to be delivered to the 21st and Webb booster station, and the city would pay El Dorado $234 million for start-up capital costs to cover a treatment plant and the pipeline. In exchange, the city would receive the treated water for free for a specified time. If the city doesn’t pick up the start-up costs, the city would pay $5 per 1,000 gallons. It would require minimal water conservation by the public, King said – again less than the water conserved by the city’s appliance rebate program. Price tag for improvements to Wichita infrastructure to accept the water would be $16 million, with $600,000 annual operating costs, raising water rates 0.7 percent with a $250 million capital investment by the city.
Meitzner said he’s encouraged about the report and the opportunity to protect the city for decades against major drought.
“When I was told we had a 50-year water supply and I asked, ‘Where’s that document?’ and I was told we have a 50-year water supply if there isn’t a drought,” he said. “It’s important we have these other sources – a new reservoir in El Dorado, reuse, ASR, whatever it’s going to be.”