Recent rainfall is filling Wichita’s two primary sources of drinking water – Cheney Reservoir and the underground Equus Beds – and that could help prepare for droughts, city officials say.
In 2014, the Equus Beds aquifer was 95 percent full, and it is now 96 percent full from the rain, Mayor Jeff Longwell said.
Cheney Reservoir has gained 5.5 billion gallons of water since the beginning of May and is at 104 percent capacity, Longwell said.
One measure the city has taken in recent years is the Aquifer Storage and Recovery recharge, or ASR, which is meant to help build future water reserves in case of a drought. The process involves taking extra water from the Little Arkansas River, cleaning it to drinking water standards and then putting it into the underground aquifer for long-term storage.
Officials have focused more on recharging the Equus Beds because it doesn’t face the evaporation problems that storing water solely in Cheney would bring, Longwell said.
“We lose more water in a day at Cheney due to evaporation than we use in a day,” Longwell said.
The first phase of ASR allowed for up to 10 million gallons a day to be added to the well field, and the current phase allows the city to take water out of the river at a rate of 30 million gallons a day when there is enough water in the river.
According to Ken Evans, the city’s strategic communications director, ASR has been operating since mid-May and is treating water, and will likely continue operations into next week. The results and impact to Cheney and the Equus Beds after this month’s rainfall were not immediately available, he said.
ASR ran for 26 hours between April 18 and 23 since the area received enough rainfall to raise the water levels in the river, officials said. During that time, the city was able to recharge about 16.3 million gallons of water.
The lowest Equus Bed levels on record were in 1993, when it was at 80 percent.
In response, the city changed its blend of water to take more water from Cheney Reservoir and less from the aquifer. It also implemented the current tiered rate structure that calls on people who use more water to pay more.
Friday marks 50 years since Cheney started providing water to Wichita, according to the city.
Despite the heavy rains, Longwell urged residents to still conserve water and not do things like run outdoor sprinklers when it is raining or the ground is saturated.
About $65,000 is left in the city’s water rebate program that allows people who buy water-efficient devices and appliances – such as rain barrels, washing machines, toilets and dishwashers – to apply for discounts on their water bills.
The city also is funding two water conservation studies that will be underway later this year to determine how to encourage residents and businesses to conserve water outdoors and to recycle water in industrial processes.
Recent aquifer storage history
Start of drought
Summer of drought
Increased Cheney draw
Source: City of Wichita
High-efficiency toilets: $100
Clothes washers: $100
Rain sensors: $100
Smart irrigation controls: $100
High-efficiency urinals: $100
Rain barrels: Up to $75
Dual-flush converters: Up to $50
Source: City of Wichita