Urges continued state support for the Equus Beds recharge project
Wichita has a long and storied history about providing water for its citizens. Decades ago, the City of Wichita focused its attention on Cheney Lake, creating a water supply that has served us well. Today, we again are challenged to look to the future and ensure that our citizens have a predictable supply of safe, clean water. Today, our focus is on the Equus Beds Aquifer northwest of our city. We have committed ourselves to as much as a $500 million investment to pump excess water from the Little Arkansas River back into the water table. We think of it as a giant water piggy bank, an underground reservoir that is our best option for future water needs.
The vast portion of that investment will be paid by Wichita water customers. The federal government has committed to up to $30 million in assistance, much of which has yet to be appropriated. Three years ago, for the first time, the City of Wichita asked for assistance from the State of Kansas. Thanks to the Kansas Water Authority, which put the request in its budget for Fiscal Year 2009, we were awarded a $1 million appropriation. Our expectation was that a similar appropriation would be made available for each of the eight remaining years in the project’s construction schedule. Last year, because of state budget cuts, the appropriation dwindled to about $300,000. This year, similar budget concerns again reduced the request from $1 million to $550,000 in the proposed Water Authority budget. We were pleased to learn this week that the $550,000 request survived the annual budget battle in the Kansas Legislature and is on its way to the Governor for his approval. While those amounts seem relatively small in the context of a $500 million budget, I want to assure you they are essential for several reasons. Wichita is proud of its spirit of innovation, and its willingness to take bold and progressive steps to meet the water needs of its citizens. But we are also citizens of the state of Kansas. The Equus Beds project serves not just the citizens of Wichita, but a wide range of agricultural and regional interests who are not directly contributing to the cost of the ASR project. For that reason, it is entirely appropriate that the Kansas Water Authority continue to include the Equus Beds project in its annual budget request to the governor and the Kansas Legislature. Each year, the City of Wichita contributes more than $1 million in water fees to the Kansas Water Fund.
We recognize that, as citizens of the state of Kansas, we have an obligation to help fund the state’s needs. We haven’t asked for much in return, and the Equus Beds project represents our first major project funded by the state Water Fund. These are critical times for the future of Kansas Water Policy. We expect the Kansas Water Authority to lead a statewide debate over the need for additional water revenues to meet the future needs of our state. As you advance that debate, it will be critical that you have a broad base of support, and it is appropriate that urban communities such as Wichita stand with you as you make your case. Later this year, I will assume the presidency of the League of Kansas Municipalities. The League is represented on the Water Authority by Dave Corliss, city manager of Lawrence, and we greatly appreciate his vigilant attention to municipal needs. Unfortunately, we have often left Dave on his own to carry that burden, and we’d like to change that dynamic. Urban communities such as Wichita, along with municipal advocates such as the League of Kansas Municipalities, need to have a stronger voice as we set future water policy. We recognize the tremendous challenge you face in managing the great Kansas reservoirs that serve the water needs of much of northeast Kansas. The water needs of western Kansas and the declining water table of the Ogallala Aquifer are another major priority. It has been just a few short years since the specter of a statewide drought had everybody worried about the water supplies of communities such as Hays, Salina and southeast Kansas. Fortunately, we’ve enjoyed a few years of bountiful rain, and we can breathe a little easier for now. But we also know that weather patterns can change dramatically. One thing that will not change is our statewide responsibility to prepare ourselves for the water needs of the future, regardless of weather patterns. In conclusion, I want to emphasize our willingness to join you in pursuit of long range solutions that protect our most vital natural resource.
This can’t just be an urban solution, or just a rural solution. It must be a solution that FAIRLY assesses costs while it FAIRLY distributes benefits. Nothing else will work in the long term. I look forward to working with the Kansas Water Authority, both as mayor of Wichita and as president of the Kansas League of Municipalities. Working together, we will make sure our citizens are assured of a reliable source of water for generations to come.