WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — The City of Wichita has moved into Stage 1 of its drought response plan.

“There’s no cause for alarm,” Don Henry, Public Works and Utilities’ assistant director, told the Wichita City Council on Tuesday.

During Stage 1, the city manager calls on residents to voluntarily conserve water, the City offers incentives or rebates that encourage water conservation, and the City tries to conserve water in its operations.

One of Wichita’s water sources is Cheney Reservoir, so the Public Works and Utilities director monitors the lake level. Currently, the lake’s conservation pool is 80% full.

However, the City bases its drought response decisions on the 12-month moving average of the conservation pool. The average is currently 89% – enough to put the City into Stage 1 of the drought response plan.

Drought Response Plan Stages12-month moving average of Cheney Reservoir’s conservation pool
Stage 170-89%
Stage 250-69%
Stage 335-50%
Stage 40-34%

“Wichita, and Kansas in general, is situated in an area of the country that is prone to cyclical drought,” Henry said. “We experience drastic swings between wet periods and dry periods, so the situation we find ourselves in is familiar.”

Henry says another source of Wichita’s water, the Equus Beds aquifer, is in good shape and is about 95% full. He said that’s because groundwater is protected from evaporation and declines very slowly.

With the current water treatment plant, the City must use a blend of water from Cheney and groundwater. Henry said that will change with the new Northwest Water Facility that is expected to be in operation by the end of 2024. He said it will be able to treat 100% groundwater, making the City more drought resilient.

Wichita is in the 57% of Kansas experiencing extreme drought. The last time the area was in extreme drought, 2011-2013, the City hired a consultant to evaluate the drought conditions and develop a plan. The plan is now part of the city code, Sec. 17.14.010, adopted in October 2013.

“We’re in much better position now to deal with these conditions than we were at that time,” Henry said.

But he said a lot of people will want to know how long Stage 1 might last. That will depend on rainfall. The City’s water supply engineer ran different scenarios based on different rainfall patterns. In the graphics below, the green line is Stage 1, the yellow line is Stage 2, the red line is State 3, and the black line is Stage 4.

If the Wichita area gets average rainfall, Stage 1 could end this fall. However, if the city receives less than average rainfall, Stage 1 could last until July 2024. And if the historic drought conditions persist, the City could enter Stage 2 of the drought response plan by late 2024. Stage 2 involves mandatory water conservation, including limiting outdoor water use to one day a week.

“Typically, it’s April when I’m here asking to begin the rebate program, but given the drought condition, we’d like to begin it tomorrow, Jan. 11,” Penny Feist, Public Works and Utilities strategic services manager, told the City Council on Tuesday.

The rebate program offers money back to water customers who replace older equipment with newer, water-conserving equipment.

Feist said that since 2013, the rebate program has saved the City 466 million gallons of water cumulatively.

She said Wichita used an average of 60 million gallons of water daily in 2013, but it’s closer to 50 million now.

“I think people are naturally switching to some water-efficient devices,” Feist said. “That’s really helped, and we’re getting that message out there to conserve water when possible.”

Water customers can get up to $100 depending on which item they replace, washing machines, dishwashers, toilets, dual-flush converter kits, sprinkler/irrigation system controls, and, new this year, showerheads. Find the complete list at SaveWichitaWater.com.

“It has to be a replacement device,” Feist said. “It can’t be a new device for a new build. There’s a limit of five devices per customer account per year, and then the full program requirements are on the website.”

The City Council voted unanimously to approve an initial $100,000 for the rebate plan. If the money runs out before Oct. 31, the Council approved up to another $25,000 more to keep it going until the end of the year.