Special Reports

Questions, answers about proposed city water conservation plan

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Wichita water customers have gotten just a sample of the city’s push for water conservation, city officials say.

It’s one of the most frequent questions floating around Wichita since the city unveiled its plan May 22 to fine heavy water users $1,000 a month, a plan that still requires approval from the Wichita City Council.

The council will consider that penalty-based plan Tuesday, as well as a second option to reduce water use that is rate based.

That plan would require a 500 percent increase for customers who reach the third tier of rates – the city’s highest level – for the amount of water they use. The current tier three rate is $8.56 per 1,000 gallons, but it would increase to $51.36 for each 1,000 gallons used above 310 percent of the average winter consumption.

Tuesday, the council also will consider:

• A $1 million rebate program for customers who voluntarily reduce their water usage through high-efficiency appliances, low-flow fixtures and smart sensors on irrigation systems.

• Reducing water allocation from Cheney Reservoir. That would require approving a $5 million well-field modification project to lower the pumps in the Equus Beds Aquifer, as well as spending $1.4 million to modify the water treatment plant so it would only use water from the Equus Beds.

• Options of using water from El Dorado Reservoir.

Once the council acts on short- and long-term recommendations to handle the city’s water shortage, the city’s conservation plan will move into high gear, City Manager Robert Layton said.

“We’ve done some things online and we’ve done some things on City 7, but once the council decides the direction it wants to go we’ll ramp up with more on how people can conserve water at home,” Layton said.

Meanwhile, the other options that city officials put on the table last week – buying water from El Dorado Lake, drawing more water from the Equus Beds – are a response to the city’s community engagement process on the drought, said Ben Nelson, the city’s strategic services manager.

“The actions proposed in last week’s advisory committee were an attempt to match the drought response with what we heard from the public over the last two months, all while trying to make an impact that can maximize the amount of time that Cheney Reservoir is available for Wichita,” Nelson said.

Below are the city’s answers to several other questions posed by Eagle readers:

1. How can people keep track of their water usage as they approach their limits?

City officials are working to create a system on how to help customers. One option is a video tutorial regarding how to read a meter and track consumption compared to the penalty limit. Another option is to provide an online calculator that shows how much outdoor water can be used to avoid penalties. There may also be some time guidelines stating how long outdoor water can be used without exceeding the limit.

2. How will people be able to learn exactly what their water limit per month is?

Educational materials will be available to assist customers in determining their monthly usage. The monthly water bill may also be used to help show water usage. Online, print, and video tutorials will also be available.

3. Why wouldn’t I just jack up my winter water usage so I have more available summertime water without the odious $1,000 fine?

There is no way to increase the threshold for the 2013 summer irrigation season. The thresholds were set for households based on their usage this past winter.

Winter usage is calculated from November through March and is reassessed every year. Anyone who goes over the usage threshold in the winter would also be subject to the $1,000 penalty.

Prior analysis shows that it is more expensive over the course of a year to waste winter water. The monthly bill includes charges for sewer services, which are assessed based on average winter usage. Increasing the average winter usage raises sewer charges for a full 12 months of the year. This can actually increase the combined yearly charges paid to the utility.

4. How serious is the city about a deal to obtain water from El Dorado Lake?

The El Dorado option is under review and could be part of that strategy. City officials on both sides need to firm up details on available quantity, the type of water and cost before moving forward. A preliminary offer does not appear to provide significant relief to the City’s short-term drought problem. The El Dorado water source is being considered as part of a long-term master plan to provide water for the next few decades. It is critical to ensure a long-term water supply for Wichita’s growth

5. I’ve spent thousands on my lawn under the assumption I’d always be able to maintain it. What do you expect me to do now?

The proposed threshold allows for enough water during a period without rain to keep a lawn alive – that should protect the investments that customers have put into their landscapes. Water conservation standards show that an average fescue lawn requires 0.5 inches of moisture per week to survive. Compared to the average lot size in Wichita, a household would need to use 296 percent of its average winter consumption to ensure the survival of its lawn.

Some of the moisture requirements for lawn survival can also be met by weather conditions

Even the hottest, driest months of last year (June – August) averaged 0.47 inches of precipitation per week.

6. Why would you buy potable water from El Dorado when you can buy untreated water, treat it and use it in the ASR project?

That is one option being discussed between officials from both cities. It may be more beneficial for Wichitans to buy untreated water so that it can be used in conjunction with the ASR project to recharge the Equus Beds and provide water for future use.

7. Define “overuse.” Do you intend to hit me with a $1,000 fine if I’ve gone one gallon over my average winter usage?

No penalty is proposed for using a single gallon more than the average winter consumption. The $1,000 penalty would be levied on customers who exceed 310 percent of their average winter usage.

The average household in Wichita uses 6,000 gallons. For an average household to hit the penalty threshold, it would have to use more than 18,600 gallons in a single month. That means a total of 12,600 gallons more than what is used indoors.

8. What are the rebate incentives you’re considering and will you expand them to rain and weather sensors for sprinkler systems?

There would be four types of rebates offered to customers as part of a $1 million conservation program. The City would provide $100 rebates for replacing toilets, washing machines and dishwashers with high-efficiency models. In addition, a $100 rebate would be provided for installation of weather sensors in existing sprinkler systems.

Rebates would be offered beginning on July 1st. Any such devices installed between May 1, 2013 and December 31, 2013 would be eligible for rebate. Program details, including how to redeem the rebates, are being developed.

9. Who are our wholesale water customers and what rate-per-thousand gallons do they pay the city?

There are a total of 13 wholesale customers, and 11 of those use Wichita water as their primary source. Those communities include Eastborough, Rose Hill, Benton, Kechi, Andover, Butler County Rural Water District #8, Derby, Sedgwick County Rural Water District #1, Valley Center, Sedgwick County Rural Water District #3, and Bentley. The City of Maize and the Chisholm Creek Utilities (serving Bel Aire and Park City) use Wichita water as a backup source.

Wholesale customers receiving treated water pay either a flat rate of $2.45 per 1,000 gallons or pay according to tiers that are 60 percent higher than those paid by Wichitans. Raw water is sold to one wholesale customer for $0.99 per 1,000 gallons.

Both the penalty-based and rate-based water reduction proposals being brought to the City Council include similar increases in the wholesale rates.

10. How did you arrive at the 310 percent threshold?

The 310 percent threshold was calculated using standards of how much water an average fescue lawn needs to stay alive without any rainfall. An average house in Wichita would need to water 0.5 inches per week to keep a lawn alive, if there is no rain. Using this amount of water keeps a lawn alive and is lower than the 310 percent that makes up the current rate structure.

11. Will wholesale purchasers of Wichita water in other communities also face the fine?

Yes, the wholesale customers would be subject to the same penalty or other measures in effect for Wichitans. The contracts with wholesalers require that they enforce the same restrictions or rate changes that are in effect for Wichita customers.

Rick Plumlee of The Eagle contributed to this report.

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