Turning on the tap for a drink or a shower seems like a simple process. Providing the water isn’t.
And one of the driest, hottest summers on record has only made it harder.
During the last few weeks, the city of Lawrence has used 22 million to 23 million gallons of water a day. That’s about 10 million gallons more than its yearly average.
These are the highest levels Charlie Ballenger, plant manager for both the Kaw River and Clinton Lake water treatment plants, has seen in his 22 years with the city.
“Right now it’s just hustle and bustle,” he said.
To keep up with demand, both water treatment plants are running near or at full capacity. The increased amount of water requires more water testing, treatment chemicals and manpower. For water treatment crews, it’s like taking a normal day and pushing the fast forward button.
“There’s very little time to make a mistake,” Ballenger said.
And this is when everything must function properly, which worries Ballenger at times.
During other times of the year, sometimes even in the summer, treatment plants can be shut down for maintenance. With a thirsty city demanding that both plants run at full capacity, this is impossible. Ballenger said crews are doing as much preventive maintenance as possible, and the plants are holding up. But he keeps crews on call to help with maintenance and repairs just in case.
These crews have, so far, kept the water flowing, which means Lawrence should count itself fortunate.
Gov. Sam Brownback declared a state of drought emergency in Kansas on Wednesday, allowing cities running out of water to draw reserves from fishing lakes. Earlier in the week, the Arkansas River ran dry near Great Bend in central Kansas.
Farm ponds across the state also have dried up, pushing ranchers to sell cattle.
Lawrence sits much better than most cities, drawing water from Clinton Lake, which is only one foot lower than normal and the still-flowing Kansas River.
City Manager David Corliss said Lawrence had its investments in infrastructure and those at the water treatment plants to thank for that.
Still, he stressed the importance of saving water: “We always need to be wise water consumers in a period of drought.”
And any reduction in water demand would be a welcome relief for Ballenger and water treatment plant employees, who currently have little margin for error.
“You just have to be on top of your game,” Ballenger said.
Here are some water-saving tips provided by the city of Lawrence and other sources:
l Turn off sprinklers after it rains.
l Use water as infrequently as possible to water your lawn, watering five to seven days during cool morning hours.
l Use mulch on gardens to reduce water evaporation.
l Take shorter showers.
l Use rain barrels to capture gutter run-off, which can be used for watering.
l Turn off the faucet when brushing your teeth.