Water conservation at the local and state level was the main discussion on Thursday at the Clarion Inn as individuals from various organizations, as well as community members, convened for the 2017 Kansas Water Congress Summer Conference.

Fred Jones, water systems resource manager for the City of Garden City provided information on the challenges, as well as current programs and projects of the local water municipality.

“I think the difference between municipal water use and producers using water is we provide the water, and then we have 30,000 to 40,000 people determine how it’s used everyday,” Jones said.

Two of the biggest issues facing water municipalities is aging infrastructures, as well as water availability, quality and quantity, Jones said.

“We’re a declining aquifer in Kansas, so quantity is a big concern for us… The infrastructure side of it is very important to us as well,” Jones said.

One of the things the water department in Garden City wanted to talk to its customers about was water use in Garden City, Jones said, adding that to do so, the city provides a report to its customers who are using more water than their neighbors.

“One of the things we’re starting to do with customers is have conversations with them about water because they’re not as concerned about water as most of you in this room are,” Jones said. “They want to know when they turn on the faucet, that something comes out of the tap, when they flush the toilet it goes away and comes back up.”

While most communities measure water month to month with meters, Garden City measures water usage by the hour through meters.

“It’s a tool to help people save water,” Jones said, adding that the city’s water department takes the water usage information and creates “some kind of touchstone” to see how one person’s water usage compares to their neighbor’s or the subdivision they they live in.

Jones said the report customers receive will indicate their water usage for the month. The reports lets customers know how much more water they will use than their neighborhood if they continue the same water use patterns.

If the report has a red box, it indicates the user’s water usage is more than their neighbor’s. If the report has a green box, it indicates the customer used less than their neighbors, Jones said.

The report also has a monetary breakdown to show much more money is being spent on a water bill, as well as water conservation tips.

“We spent about a year working on this experiment. Now that we have the data put together… It’s something that can be done in a couple hours. We can get the annual report and we cant get the information pulled down,” Jones said of the report.

Jones said the reports will have its benefits, mainly water conservation.

“That means prolonging resources for the community, it means reducing water that has to be developed in the future and it also addresses infrastructure needs to push water around the community,” Jones said.

Jones discussed a couple of water projects the city is working on, including a sub-surface irrigation project at Clint Lightner Stadium, the baseball diamond that is the home to Garden City High School in the spring, and the Garden City Wind in the summer.

“The reason for that is we have the dairy processing facility coming to Garden City that’s will be providing treated effluent water to the city,” Jones said. “The city also treats somewhere in the neighborhood of a billion gallons of waste water every year and there’s an effluence stream from that that we’re looking at.”

Jones said if the city could move the water into an area like Clint Lightner and apply it to a sub-surface irrigation technology, rather than overhead, then the city could potentially see the treated effluent water used in the whole area of Finnup Park, which could ultimately be used at Lee Richardson Zoo, Finnup Park and some of the other baseball fields in 30-plus acres around Clint Lightner.

“But that’s a big policy question, how do we get there?” Jones said, adding that something else the city is working on to answer that question is through the the Bureau of Reclamation with a feasibility study, or strategic plan for reuse of effluent water resources in Garden City and the area.

City Commissioner and Director of Field Services for the Groundwater Management District, Chris Law, said since he has been on the commission since 2011, water has been a topic of discussion.

“Really, we’re not hurting for water in Garden City necessarily,” Law said. "We have a plethora of water rights and we have good wells and dry wells.”

Law added that we should be good stewards of water usage and use it as conservatively as possible.

Also during the conference, there were general presentations and reports of state agencies and Ground Water Management Districts, including the Kansas Department of Agriculture, Kansas Division of Resources, Kansas Water Office, Kansas Geological Society and GMD’s 1 through 5.

KDA secretary Jackie McClaskey said her team is committed to water conservation, adding that one of the things that has been seen in the past Legislature is the knowledge and interest in water has “increased exponentially”.

“The idea of raising the discussion of water in the statehouse has been incredible,” McClaskey said.

Susan Metzger, KDA assistant secretary, said one of the key parts of the Water Vision is that it is investing in the state’s youth and providing them with the tools, knowledge and enthusiasm to be the next water leaders in the state.

“About six, seven months ago, there was a high school student from Holcomb who came to us and said, ‘I have an idea. I think we should get high school students really excited about water, so they can can take on the next role of leadership.’ And that person is Grace Roth,” Metzger said of the Holcomb High School sophomore-to-be, who was in attendance at the conference.

Metzger said Roth helped create the Kansas Youth Water Advocates group, which held its inaugural conference two weeks ago at Kansas State University.

“This is a program she envisioned and then with the help of K-State and KDA and a lot of other partners, we’re able to make it possible,” Metzger said.

Metzger said there were 11 high school students from around the state that spent, “an intense amount of time together learning about water resources, learning about careers in water and then also going through vigorous activities of learning how to stand in front of a group, learning how to facilitate a conversation about water resources”.

“It was really exciting,” Metzger said of the conference. “I think Grace is one of the most talented, motivated high school students I have ever met. Imagine being surrounded by 10 other people just like her. It really gave you some promise and enthusiasm for the work that we’re putting into the foundation today is going to last for future generations,” Metzger said. “I really want to commend Grace for this really fantastic idea.”

Contact Josh Harbour at jharbour@gctelegram.com