It may not be worth delaying a project designed to ensure Wichita's future water supply to save residents a little pocket change each month, several members of the newly formed Water Utilities Advisory Committee said Thursday afternoon.
Under one of several options being discussed to shore up the city water utility's financial woes, parts of the Equus Beds Aquifer recharge project would be delayed indefinitely.
The $550 million project treats river water and injects it into the aquifer to push back the contaminated groundwater moving toward the public water supply.
Under a scaled-back plan, the city could pump up to 15 million gallons a day back into the aquifer north of the city instead of 30 million.
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But preliminary calculations Thursday afternoon showed that delaying parts of the project would probably save the average resident only 11 cents per month on their water bill this year.
"The marginal savings of scaling back this project is not significant enough to do it," Derby City Manager Kathy Sexton said.
The city almost certainly will have to raise water rates effective in July, with more hikes coming next year and years to come.
One plan would hike water rates by 7.5 percent this year and 18 percent next year.
That raises the $22.22 current average residential water and sewer bill to $23.89, starting in July.
That rate hike hinges on the city scaling back the project, which would save — or defer — more than $35 million.
If the city doesn't delay the project, water rates would probably go up by 8 percent this July and by 19 percent next year.
That's only 11 cents more than the scaled back plan for average users this year and 37 cents next year.
"I just think you build a larger system and go with it," said Steve Lackey, who retired from his post as public works director in 2004. "You're already going to have rate shock, you may as well build it out the first time."
More than likely, the city would end up expanding the aquifer recharge project at some point anyway, water officials agree.
"Everyone is going to take heat (on water rate hikes)," said George Sherman, vice president for special projects at Key Construction. "Do you take it once or do you take it twice?"
One consideration is the impact it could have on businesses that use far more water.
A preliminary calculation on average commercial bill($133.93) showed the difference between a scaled-back aquifer recharge and a 30-million-gallon-per-day system would be 67 cents per month this year and $3.24 next year.
It's that initial rate hike that is almost assured to affect the bottom line, not the small difference created by scaling back the aquifer recharge project, several committee members said.
But since the city miscalculated how much revenue it would make to pay off the aquifer project already, there are no cheap options.
"What other options do we have?" asked Art Huber, vice president for facilities at Via Christi Health. "I need water."