Wichita The city is asking the state to ante up $1 million a year to help fund an innovative project designed to recharge an underground aquifer north of Wichita.
The money would help defray at least some of the costs that have been borne by city residents who have had to pay increasing water rates in recent years to secure Wichita's future water supply.
If approved by the Legislature, the $1 million a year could reduce future water rate increases to help pay the costs of taking water out of the Little Arkansas River after a rain storm and storing it in the Equus Beds aquifer.
"If we can get a million bucks a year from the state, that's a million we're not taking from our ratepayers," said Jerry Blain, the city's superintendent of water production and pumping.
City and state leaders emphasized that the aquifer recharge project has benefits beyond Wichita.
Officials contend the project helps cities that buy water from Wichita and provides water for farmers who irrigate. The project also acts as the testing ground for aquifer recharge that could help other parts of Kansas and the nation protect their water supplies.
"This is not just a local issue," said state Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican. "It's very much a regional issue."
The 24-member Kansas Water Authority unanimously recommended this summer that Gov. Kathleen Sebelius allocate $1 million from the state general fund in fiscal 2009 for the project, said Earl Lewis, assistant director of the Kansas Water Office.
It will be up to lawmakers to decide in the 2008 legislative session whether the project merits statewide funding.
"It's not just a Wichita thing," said Rep. Jason Watkins, R-Wichita. "It's a south-central Kansas issue. Everybody in the state, at least everybody in the Legislature, is concerned with water issues."
Until 1993, the Equus Beds aquifer was the city's primary water source. As water levels in the aquifer declined, contaminated water - including salt water - crept toward water wells. Recharging the aquifer is expected to create a barrier to hold back that contamination.
The recharge project takes overflow water from the Little Arkansas River and channels it to a purification system before allowing the water to soak into the aquifer for storage and future use.
The current phase has a $125 million price tag, and city water users have born the brunt of costs, with a 37 percent increase in water rates since 1999.