Water, and who is using what from the Equus Beds, was one of the top topics of discussion for the Harvey County Commission July 2.
Members of the commission and county staff attended a meeting in Halstead last week to learn about proposed changes to the Wichita aquifer recharge project — and those in attendance left a bit confused.
“My concern is they changed their bottom line number three times in their meeting,” said Commissioner Chip Westfall. . “... What we have heard from them in the past year, it has changed a lot.”
The city of Wichita has the state’s only ASR project, developed and approved in two phases within the Equus Beds Aquifer. Wichita has proposed changes to the conditions associated with its existing permits for Phase II of its ASR project including a new method to accumulate recharge credits during times of limited recharge capacity, as well as a series of new applications to allow the city to recover recharge credits at existing production wells.
The ASR project was established 25 years ago to divert water from the Little Arkansas River when it flows high, treat it to drinking water standards and inject the processed water into the Equus Beds aquifer (a primary water source for the region — and the sole source in Harvey County). Doing so allows the city of Wichita to accumulate recharge credits with the Kansas Department of Agriculture, allowing it to withdraw the additional water from the Equus Beds aquifer — which spans the west half of Harvey County, and further — when needed, like in drought conditions.
Earlier this year, the aquifer sat at 98 percent full — a benefit to users and the aquifer, but a hindrance to the physical recharge capacity (as well as the creation of recharge credits). Instead of injecting water into the aquifer, it is pumped directly to the city in such conditions — which does not create recharge credits. Regulations also restrict the use of recharge credits to when aquifer groundwater levels are at or above a minimum standard (88 percent full, based on the lowest level in the aquifer’s history). As the needs of the city are changing, Deputy Director of Public Works Joe Pajor noted city officials are looking to change how the ASR operates as well.
Westfall expressed concerns with the number of municipal wells within about three miles of the Little Arkansas River and if Wichita's plans could cause problems in a drought.
“Ultimately, if they get permission to draw in lower, lower than they have credits and they draw it lower than the (1993 Drought) level, everyone will be a drought and it will be a problem,'” said Gina Bell, Planning and Zoning Director for Harvey County. “We are going to have to deal with it when it comes. I wish there was a plan that could put us in better shape ahead of time.”
“It will not just be Wichita drawing on it. Everyone will be drawing on it,” Westfall added.
Wichita has water rights in the Equus Beds, as do others.
“Wichita has first right, first in time wells. No matter what we argue through, they still have that. They are going to try and get approval through the state to take water out of the Little Ark river and instead of pumping back into the ASR and Equuis beds but they will go directly to Wichita,” Bell said. “This is their option to try and make everyone a little bit happier. ... My concern I voiced was what happens when wells are going dry.”
There will be a public hearing on the project in August, though a date and time for that have not yet been set.
Details about the ASR project and the proposed changes can be found at the KDA-DWR website at agriculture.ks.gov/WichitaASR. Persons who require special accommodations must make their needs known at least five days prior to the meeting. For more information, please contact Chris Beightel at 785-564-6659.
In other business:
• Learned that county administration discussed recycling service access for rural customers with Waste Connections. The company will continue to offer recycling services to county residents, to reflect the requirements of a resolution passed by the county.
• Discussed the purchase of a solid waste trash compactor. The commission looked at sending out bid specifications for a brand new compactor and looked at the specifications of a used compactor that is currently available.
• Learned that sales tax collection have been dropping for Harvey County, more than 6 percent for the month of June and 2.25 percent for the quarter. Retail trade is the category that is showing the negatives and downward trends.
• Heard an update on how a supreme court decision about sales tax could affect Harvey County as it relates to online purchases made from out-of-state companies. The Kansas legislature must pass a law to allow for sales tax to be collected on those transactions.