July 12, 2008

Lawns Still Look Green;

By Annie Calovich, The Wichita Eagle, Kan.

Jul. 12--city officials look happy

Water usage Thursday was down, city says

After three days of a weeklong restriction on lawn watering in Wichita and six surrounding communities, Wichita officials say people are cooperating and no lawns are dying.

City officials have been trying to keep water usage under 70 million gallons a day after an equipment failure at the city water treatment plant. On Thursday, 56.5 million gallons were used.

"People are doing very well," said Angela Cato spokeswoman for the city's water department. "We've had some rain, but people are complying from what we've seen from the figures and helping us out quite a bit."

Water usage on a hot summer day can soar to 120 million gallons, but the city has been able to treat only half the amount of water it usually does.

Before a clarifier at the treatment plant broke, the plant was able to treat 145 million gallons of water; it can treat only 70 million now. The main concern with the reduced amount of water is the ability to fight a large fire, Cato said.

The city asked Wichitans on Wednesday to refrain from watering their lawns for a week, through next Wednesday. The restriction also applies to residents of six surrounding communities that get their water from Wichita -- Bel Aire, Derby, Eastborough, Kechi, Park City and Valley Center.

"I cannot stress enough how important it is for individuals and businesses to turn off their sprinklers," David Warren, director of the city's water utilities, said in a statement Thursday. "If people ignore our request and continue to irrigate as usual, we will have a very serious situation on our hands that may put the safety of our community at risk."

Cato said that people should wait to hear from the city before they resume watering Thursday.

"We're working very diligently" to replace the damaged clarifier, Cato said. But "we want to do it right."

The city's decorative and interactive fountains also have gone dry, "until further notice."

Watering lawns is often at its height this time of year, but abundant spring and early-summer rain means people shouldn't be concerned about missing a week, extension agent Rebecca Bandli said.

"Even if your fescue starts to brown a little bit, it's not dying, it's just going dormant like it naturally would in a dry summer," Bandli said. "As soon as it gets some water, it will green back up."

A slight chance of rain is in the forecast for today and Tuesday. The only lawns that might have problems are ones that have been sodded recently. Sod must be kept moist until it's established.

"If they just put it in, it might be a stretch getting it through until next Wednesday," Bandli said. "With the rain it shouldn't be a huge issue."

Sod and sprinkler companies say they haven't stopped doing business because of the watering restriction, and Cato said the city doesn't expect them to.

"We're not wanting to disrupt people's businesses," Cato said. "We're not ticketing. We're using people's common sense to weigh the benefits and risks. We just hope people will see the urgency of the message and see how important it is not to irrigate."

Bandli says the restriction can serve to show people that they shouldn't be watering automatically anyway.

"When the water comes back on, water only when you need to," she said. "Generally we recommend an inch of water a week, applied once or twice a week versus more times." She recommends setting out empty tuna cans throughout the yard to measure the inch.

Cato said the city has been getting some reports of people watering, but she said residents have to be careful not to judge, because the sprinklers may be running on well water. Cranmer Grass Farming, for example, is able to keep all of its sod moist with well water.

"On the whole, I think people get it that we have had a lot of rain and that the value of public safety outweighs green grass," she said.

Reach Annie Calovich at 316-268-6596 or [email protected]


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