Several factors created the need to update the water conservation plan that included changing the drought response plan for the city.
Randy DeWitt, assistant director of public works, said every year the department conducts an annual review of the water conservation plan. In addition to the review, he said Gov. Sam Brownback asked every municipality to update the plan following the 2012 drought that continues to affect several counties across Kansas. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, Riley County has abnormally dry conditions in the southern half while the northern portion of the county has returned to normal conditions.
Another factor is major changes to the water system that include increased capacity for the water plant. DeWitt said the department has increased the water plant’s capacity by 30 percent and drilled four new wells to provide more water to the growing population around Manhattan. The increased water capacities enabled the department to broaden the plan to include three stages of response rather than just one. The stages are based on water use during peak times during the day.
DeWitt said when water consumption during peak times causes the plant to exceed 85 percent of capacity, a first-stage trigger is activated. As that percentage increases, the triggers for the second and third stage are activated.
DeWitt said the plant is capable of producing about 30 million gallons of potable water per day. During a first stage trigger, the city intends to contact large volume water consumers to seek voluntarily reductions in peak usage. He said the large volume water users typically comply even though it is voluntary, and that compliance alleviates the stress on the plant. He said the city could also ask residents to reduce outdoor water consumption, but it is not mandatory.
City manager Ron Fehr said the city has occasionally asked residents to reduce water consumption at times, but has never mandated a water restriction.
DeWitt said morning peak times are between 6 and 8 a.m. when people are getting ready for work. Evening peak times vary but usually fall between 6 and 9 p.m. when most people are home and before they go to bed.
The second and third triggers happen when water consumption during peak times exceeds 90 percent or more of plant capacity, and the water levels in the water towers fall below 98 percent during peak times. DeWitt said at that time, the city mandates rationing by all water consumers.
He said the code was written to allow the commission to enact part or all of the water rationing provision, which include watering on alternate days, eliminating all water use outdoors that is not necessary like washing cars, and limiting the amount of water used by a household in a given day.
During the July 16 city commission meeting, commissioners said they wanted to see a rate structure that included fines for overconsumption of water during water rationing mandates. DeWitt said the staff is still working on what that would look like and will present it to the commission for approval when the second vote to implement the plan goes before the commission in the next few weeks.