Eagle editorial: Conserve water supply

If Wichita officials were trying to get citizens’ attention last week by proposing a $1,000-a-month fine for using too much water, mission accomplished. But that and other ideas raise tough questions for the City Council members and Mayor Carl Brewer, and for a community already tired of high water bills.

After the wet weather of the past few months, it was surprising and disappointing to see the city’s experts still predicting last week that Cheney Reservoir could go dry in mid-2015. Clearly, nature is only doing so much to help replenish the source of 64 percent of Wichita’s water.

And the early negotiations about buying water from El Dorado Lake sound discouraging, finding the parties far apart on price, quantity and even the kind of water to be sold.

So some form of conservation is coming to Wichita. Officials are talking about trying to eliminate 50 percent of summertime outdoor irrigation, representing nearly 25 percent of annual usage.

They were right to shelve an unpopular earlier proposal to raise water rates sharply in an attempt to curb usage, finding through surveys that the public prefers “fine-based water restrictions.”

But is it necessary to impose a $1,000 fine – which would be charged when customers exceed 310 percent of their average winter water usage?

Since citizens don’t have usage gauges on their kitchen faucets and showerheads, how would they know when they risked a fine?

And will anything the city does to penalize water use just motivate more people to drill wells, further depleting area groundwater while undermining the finances of the city’s water utility?

While elected officials wrestle with these questions in the coming days, Wichita and El Dorado need to keep working on a mutually beneficial plan. City Hall also should consider the costs and modifications involved in drawing more water from the Equus Beds aquifer, at least if that can be done cost-effectively without losing control of the plume of oil field brine that has long threatened the aquifer.

Rebates for purchases of water-efficient appliances and rain sensors for lawn sprinkler systems also sound like worthy ideas.

And Wichitans shouldn’t wait for City Council approval of a fine program to change their thinking and also their habits when it comes to flushing (three gallons each time), showering (two gallons a minute), dishwashing (four to 10 gallons per load, or 20 gallons by hand), and especially outdoor watering (five to 10 gallons a minute).

A lot will need to change if Wichita is going to have the water supply it needs to grow and prosper, starting with the notion that water is an unlimited resource.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman