Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Water supply is a much different picture for the City of Wichita than it was a couple of months ago, but that is not keeping the city from developing a new drought response plan.
The city is using a time when Cheney Reservoir is full to start the discussion about the next drought. Public Works and Utilities Department Officials presented their proposed plan to the Wichita City Council this week.
"History shows that droughts are part of the normal seasonal variations here in the state and so it's just a matter of time until we get into another drought," Director of Public Works and Utilities Alan King said in his City Hall office Wednesday.
The city has always had a drought plan, King said, but the public works department has been studying the drought responses of other cities in Kansas and across the U.S. to update Wichita's plan.
"We took the best ideas from our research and combined them into the draft plan that we've presented to council," he said.
That proposed plan uses levels of Cheney Reservoir as triggers for different drought responses.
If Cheney has a 12-month average level of 90 percent, the city will begin a publicity campaign urging water customers to implement voluntary conservation. Rebate programs like the one the city used this summer to provide incentives for residents to purchase high-efficiency washing machines and dishwashers would also be a likely response.
With a 70-percent 12-month average level at Cheney, lawn watering would be restricted to certain times and certain days.
At 50 percent, the city would implement fines for over-using water. However, not all city council members are sold on the proposed penalties, especially one that would fine businesses $1,000 if they use too much water during a drought.
"Part of it says, 'Oh really? If you spend $500 you can use water or you spend $1,000 you can use water,'" City Councilman Pete Meitzner said. "That's not the goal."
Meitzner likes that much of the plan focuses on conservation. He said Wichita residents have been great stewards of water this summer and have likely changed habits that will benefit the city's water supply in the future.
Some residents like Kathy Witherspoon had already started conservation measures before the most recent drought.
"We had a bunch of weeds out front," Witherspoon said of her Riverside lawn. "So, instead of planting fescue, we planted Bermuda because we realized fescue requires so much more water."
The switch was one Witherspoon and her husband were more than happy to make.
"We don't want to pay a huge water bill," Kathy said. "So we all need to work together."
So far, these measures are just proposals. King, the public works director, expects the city council to make its final decision on how to guide Wichita's future drought responses in 30 to 45 days.