By TIM HORAN
The recent storm that dropped 12 inches of snow on Abilene and the surrounding area will start replenishing the city’s wells starting around September.
In the meantime, the Abilene wells must last the summer with a water supply that has already been stressed.
With that in mind, the City of Abilene is undergoing some water usage education programs and predicts that a water use emergency maybe in the future.
“If it rains or snows the moisture doesn’t actually get to the point where we can pump it out of the ground for probably 6 to 9 months,” said City Manager David Dillner. “We don’t know exactly how long it takes but we know with the instruments that we have and the tests that we’ve run, that it takes about that long before the water shows up on our well levels.”
The City of Abilene manages two underground water sources (Sand Springs Aquifer and the River Alluvium) that provide potable water to approximately 3,200 water customers including Dickinson County Rural Water District No. 2. On any given day, the Water Treatment Plant produces between 1 and 3 million gallons per day (MGD) to meet the community’s demands for water.
Based on information compiled by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the City of Abilene is one of the highest users of water per capita in our region. The city’s five year average is 141 gallons per person per day. The city’s use increases in the summer to 162 gallons per person per day. The City of Chapman uses an average of 154 gallons per person per day.
Without significant rainfall in the near future, there is a high probability of Abilene going to a water emergency, the city manager said.
“If you look at the communities around us, everyone is bracing for the potential of a water emergency,” Dillner said. “Right now we are in a water warning. There are no mandatory restrictions. It’s voluntary and we try to get people to conserve as much water as we can. Once we get to a water emergency, then we can add mandatory restrictions on outside watering and other wastes of water. We are ramping up in anticipation of going to a water emergency. That is not to say it is imminent. It just means that we are preparing.”
Because the water utility is a business of the city, it’s not technically taxpayer funded, he said. In the event of an emergency the city can restrict water usage of its customers. While the city has no control over residents or businesses with private wells, those users may be asked to follow the same restrictions voluntarily.
The only restriction currently in place is that the watering of lawns is prohibited from noon to 7 p.m. May 1 through Sept. 30.
“Watering outside of those times, when you water in the heat of the afternoon, a lot of that evaporates,” he said. “It’s more beneficial to water outside of that time frame. It’s more beneficial for your lawn and more beneficial for your water bill as well.”
The city is also going to request those that water their lawns to cut back.
“We’re going to talk about the top 50 water users and the top 200 residential customers,” Dillner said.
He said eight percent of Abilene’s residential customers are responsible for 33 percent of our residential water usage.
“We have four residents that are actually on the top 50 user list,” he added. “We are going to try to get people to think about, ‘Do I really need to water my yard that much? Is it really that important?’
“One of our efforts as we talk about this is to show what the city is doing to reduce our water usage,” Dillner said. “We are going to start a project next week, if we haven’t already, with respect to the Rose Garden and even our ball fields, and that is using some nonpotable water that is wastewater from the water plant. We often get the question of why we don’t just put that back to the water plant and recycle it into drinking water and the answer is it, in essence, has concentrated nitrates in it. To send it back to the water plant and to put it back through the process is not efficient. It’s like you can only recycle a piece of paper so many times before it is no longer paper.
“We are not going to send it to the plant but we are going to use this water to do some things that we don’t need potable water for, like the Rose Garden and watering ball fields. That will be a key thing, because people will say, ‘You are telling us not to water and you are watering,’ but it is not drinking water. It’s water that we are otherwise going to put down the creek.”
The city and the Abilene Reflector-Chronicle will be publishing water tips.
The educational campaign will discuss the top water users, watering the lawn tips, and list grasses that you can plant like buffalo and fescue that don’t require as much water.
“They are not necessarily the green types of grass but they can take a beating in the summer heat,” Dillner said.
“We have a lot of people that water daily,” he said. “You can actually get by with watering every second or even every third day. The lawn learns to adapt. To get people to learn to do that, we can conserve more water.
“We want to keep the topic of water in front of people. If it’s out there and on people’s minds, you might turn down the faucet.”
Neither of the two well fields is fed by the Smoky Hill River. The Sand Springs Aquifer is actually an underground lake and several wells feed the city. The River Alluvium may sound like it is fed by the river but in fact, it’s not directly correlated with the river.
The city manager said Abilene has been searching for a new water source since 1996 and hasn’t been successful.
“We have located a source, not necessarily a new source, that would allow us to pump more water out of ground than we can pump out of the ground now,” he said.