Area water conservation plans ready for summer

5/15/2013

By SCOTT AUST

By SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

Last December, Gov. Sam Brownback sent a letter to all public water suppliers in the state urging them to assess their systems and review water conservation plans due to the state's ongoing drought.

Heading into the hot summer months, conversations with officials of several communities indicate their plans are updated and their systems ready to meet water needs this summer.

The water conservation plans of those contacted, which included Garden City, Holcomb, Lakin, Syracuse and Scott City, generally include escalating levels of response and increased restrictions as demand increases and water supplies decrease.

All the communities conduct a certain amount of public education about being smart with water, but so far none of them have had to implement some of the more extreme restrictions such as allowing outdoor watering on certain days, or totally prohibiting outdoor watering. However, Scott City currently has limits on outdoor watering between May 1 and Sept. 30.

"Right now, about the only thing we are doing is limiting the hours of the day that water can be used in garden hoses, or sprinkler systems. You cannot water between noon and 7 p.m.," Mike Todd, Scott City public works director, said.

Todd said Scott City is also working on a public education program that will focus on household and outdoor water use, asking people to make sure shower heads and toilets aren't leaking and offering tips for lawn and garden watering.

Scott City implemented its current restrictions due to concerns about high use last year, Todd said.

"Our water usage last year, the first part of the year until we really started hollering about conserving water in town, was on a record pace. We actually ended up with a 10-year high last year," he said.

Todd said the town realized it needed to do something, and the majority of people have responded to it.

"We had a rate increase last year and that had some bearing on that, too. You know, price is probably going to be one of the best water conservation factors if it affects your pocketbook," he said.

Todd said Scott City will meet its water needs this summer, likely without further restrictions.

"People might not have the pressure they want, but right now it looks like we shouldn't have a problem," he said.

Holcomb Mayor Gary Newman said his city is focused on public education right now instead of restrictions. The city intends to send information gathered from the state about water conservation that basically recommends not wasting water and offers water saving tips for both indoor and outdoor use.

"I don't think we'll look at implementing any water restrictions this year. It may be something we'll need to look at in coming years, but I think we need to baby-step it."

Mike Muirhead, Garden City public utilities director, said the city's conservation plan is being updated, but likely won't be ready for city commission action until mid-summer or fall.

"As far as water conservation, we're very fortunate here in Garden City. We have more than enough water allocation for what we need," he said.

Garden City's 17 wells are in good shape to meet demand, which last year had a peak one-day demand of 17 million gallons. Muirhead said the state tells municipalities how much they can pump, and last year, Garden City only got close to 48 percent of its total allocation.

"So that's a good sign. The previous city fathers were good stewards to make sure we have the proper water and allocations as we move forward," he said.

Muirhead said while he can't speak for the city commission, right now he doesn't think the city plans to do anything more than what it already does, which is to ask people to be aware of how they use water. Some of those general tips include not watering lawns or gardens during the day, or when the wind is blowing hard, adjusting sprinklers to water grass and not sidewalks or streets, and monitoring water bills to check for unusually high use which might indicate a leak.

"The key is education," Muirhead said.

Syracuse City Administrator John Armstrong said the city has been able to keep up with demand, despite high use.

"Last year, I think we had record sales on our water. We were able to stay up on it and probably sold more water than we have in the history of the town," he said.

Decades ago, Armstrong said Syracuse often required odd-even watering days, but the city hasn't had to implement that kind of restriction for a number of years since it upgraded its system.

"Our aquifer seems to be holding up good. We are having a little bit of stress on the system in maintaining pressure to the extremities of the system, which I think everybody is probably dealing with. But we haven't had to implement any restrictions yet," he said.

Armstrong said the city's four wells are in good shape and don't appear to have been impacted very much by the ongoing drought.

"It's something we've been pretty fortunate with," he said. "With this type of weather, a power outage would probably be our biggest problem. But so far, our groundwater is holding up well and we're meeting demand. If it's worse than last year we may end up needing to implement some kind of conservation plan."

Fred Jones, Lakin city administrator, said Lakin updates its water conservation plan frequently and would be ready if necessary to implement it. Occasionally, the city's demand gets close to the point where the first level of the plan would kick in, which would involve asking the public to curtail some use and be efficient, along with more education about not being wasteful.

"We do that all the time anyhow," Jones said.

Otherwise, Lakin hasn't come close to drastic restrictions. Last summer, Jones said, the city pumped between 20 million to 31 gallons per month.

"Last year, we probably had about 45 percent of our appropriation remaining at the end of the year," he said.

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