WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — The City of Wichita is asking people to start conserving water. Even though it is not mandatory, it could be by the end of the year or early next year.

Cheney Reservoir (Photo provided by City of Wichita on May 30, 2023)

The reason is that the City relies on Cheney Lake for part of its water supply, and the lake is currently about four feet below normal.

“Cheney Reservoir provides about half of our annual drinking water,” Don Henry, assistant director of Wichita Public Works and Utilities, said. “It’s a very critical supply for our current water treatment plant.”

Wichita moved to Stage 1 of its Drought Response Plan in January. During Stage 1, the City asks residents to conserve water voluntarily. It also offers incentives to encourage water conservation and tries to conserve water in its operations.

Stage 2 is when water cutbacks become mandatory, including a limit to lawn watering.

What residents can do

Henry wants people to start cutting back now, voluntarily.

(Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

“The biggest difference that we’ll be able to make in water conservation, the greatest opportunity, will be in lawn and garden watering,” he said. “Outdoor watering this time of year makes up a big chunk of our demand, so the greatest opportunity is going to be there.”

“While water customers are encouraged to find ways to save water through all of their usage, we really encourage people to cut back as much as they can on that outdoor watering,” Henry said.

He said the Save Wichita Water website offers creative ways for residents to save water.

What the City of Wichita is doing

Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple said the City is already taking steps to conserve its water use.

Courtesy: City of Wichita

“During Riverfest, the attendees will be able to enjoy our city fountains during the festival, but afterwards, we will be shutting them off in order to help conserve a little bit of water during this drought,” he said.

He said the City is also taking these steps:

  • Reducing water on parkland and City-owned grassy areas
  • Reducing water usage on City golf courses by using pond irrigation, wells, and drought-resistant grasses
  • Using gray water from the Herman Hill WATER Center to help water trees
  • Reducing the vehicle cleaning scheduling to only cleaning City vehicles when necessary
  • Using water-efficient devices at City facilities

Part of Stage 1 includes rebates offered to Wichita Water customers who buy water-saving appliances and devices.

“This has been a very popular ongoing program since it was established during our last drought of 2011, ’12 and ’13,” Henry said. “However, this year, it will be expanded to also include water customers outside of Wichita in other cities and towns that purchase wholesale water from Wichita. Those same benefits will be extended to them as well.”

Is Stage 2 imminent?

Stage 2 will depend on the level of Cheney Lake. The City bases its drought response decisions on the 12-month moving average of the Cheney conservation pool.

“We’re not there yet,” Henry said. “Based upon projections today and, keep in mind you know it’s a moving target, right, with not just how much rainfall we get but how much of that rainfall results in runoff into Cheney Reservoir, but what we know today, we’re looking at possibly by the end of this year or early next year on looking at considerations for phase, Stage 2.”

The U.S. Drought Monitor shows the level of drought in counties across the nation. In the report released Thursday, 99.63% of Sedgwick County is considered to have exceptional, or the worst, drought. The other .37% of the county has extreme drought. One year ago this week, the county had no drought.