City Council Hears Drought Planning Options

Feb 27, 2013

Alan King, director of public works and utilities, addresses the Wichita City Council Tuesday about drought conditions.
Credit Carla Eckels / KMUW

More than one third of the state of Kansas is in severe drought, including Wichita.

Even though Wichita saw record snowfall in February, it wasn't enough to cure the severe drought problem.

Alan King of the City of Wichita public works department told the City Council that every foot of snow typically provides about an inch of rain, which he says does not represent a lot of rainfall.

The drought has been so severe that normal rainfall will not be enough.

Joe Pajor, director of public works, said in order to get back to favorable conditions, Wichita would need 6 to 10 inches above the normal accumulation

"Because normal rainfall will be like paying the interest on an outstanding line of credit, and not retiring the debt," said Pajor.

The public works department presented four options to decrease water demand:

  1. Public information campaign. Residents would be encouraged to reduce overall water consumption through voluntary restriction, with an emphasis on outdoor usage.
  2. Pursue a 50 percent reduction in outdoor water usage. Would generally affect outdoor usage that does not generate economic activity, including lawn and garden watering and private pools. Golf courses, car washes, public pools, and other businesses reliant on outdoor water could operate but at higher costs.
  3. 100 percent reduction in outdoor usage. Would severely impact 12 golf courses, the Stryker Sports Complex, Botanica, car washes, and companies doing construction work. About 4000 private and public pools would be affected.
  4. 10 percent reduction in base demand. Deepest demand reduction strategy outlined. Would probably come after a reduction in outdoor usage. Strategy results in a 10 percent decrease in non-discretionary usage, mainly from indoor usage in homes and business operations.

Water supply increase options presented:

  1. Restore well field capacity. Extends the use of Cheney, but shortens the life of the aquifer. No rate impact because the cost can be covered by 2012 excess water sales.
  2. Buy additional water rights. Different users in the region pull water from the same aquifer as Wichita – their water rights could be purchased to increase the supply for Wichita customers.
  3. Develop new groundwater sources. Additional wells would be installed in west Wichita to tap into shallow groundwater that is not currently being used in the system.
  4. Build a new desalinization plant. Groundwater not presently available for use could be desalinated and pumped into the system.

The council agreed to try to get people to voluntarily reduce their water usage with a public relations campaign, but there was no other official action taken on the options. There won't be for a few months, as the council and public works department monitor the drought conditions through the spring.

More details about water demand reductions and supply increases will come before the council at a later date.

View a PDF of the full drought planning initiative presented to the City Council.