Saving Water: The City's Plan

By: Phil White Email
By: Phil White Email

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Monday, July 15, 2013

As the prolonged drought depleted Cheney Lake earlier this year, Wichita was dangerously close to facing a severe water shortage.

Though spring rains have eased drought conditions, the City of Wichita is still asking residents and businesses to save water. That has prompted many to ask what the city is doing.

A KAKE News I-Team Investigation sought the answer.

"We are still in a drought situation here in Wichita," said Ben Nelson, the Strategic Services Manager for Wichita Public Works and Utilities.

That continuing drought has forced the city to look for ways to reduce its water usage. Last month, the Wichita City Council adopted a plan estimated to save 42 million gallons of water and $140,000 per year. The biggest saver, according to Nelson, is to reduce irrigation of grass in city parks, city rights-of-way and city lawns.

Grounds crews will also mow at a higher level, Nelson said.

"When grasses are mowed higher than what we normally do, what it does is increases the amount of shade that is available and, basically, that minimizes how much water is lost through evaporation," he said.

Another change expected to save water: Hours for interactive fountains and splash pads have been reduced 10 percent. Soon, the city plans to also install motion sensors or push-button starts for those fountains.

"We're not only looking at, 'How do we cut our usage in the short-term during this drought,' but things like motion sensors and push-button starts are things that could continue to save water just on a normal basis," said Chase Fosse, Assistant to the City Manager, who was tasked with developing Wichita's water conservation plan.

Fosse said other long-term conservation efforts being explored include converting some athletic field and golf course surfaces from cool-season fescue to bermuda grass, which requires less water.

The Wichita Fire Department, Fosse said, is studying whether it will be safe to lengthen the time between inspections of the city's 17,000 fire hydrants.

"Each one of those inspections uses about 500 gallons of water, so when you multiply that by 17,000 inspections a year, it's pretty significant potential savings there."

Nelson aid others in the public works department are now at work developing a long-term water master plan.

"We know that we're in a drought now," he said. "We know we'll eventually get out of it and end up in future droughts. We also know that Wichita's going to grow and we want to make sure that we're looking at what our long-term supply needs are going to be."

Nelson said the city's Aquifer Storage and Recovery Project will be one of the solutions for addressing future water needs. He said drawing water from El Dorado Lake is also another option. City leaders are still determining how much that will cost the city, he said.

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