Like many cities in America, Wichita was faced with the economic burden of a federally designated Superfund Site. Property values at the 29th and Mead National Priorities List (NPL) Site quickly declined and banks became reluctant to lend on property in this area.
Conflicts among property owners over liability issues, and the inability to agree on cost effective cleanup solutions curtailed the development of a cleanup action plan. The City's prospect of revitalizing this highly concentrated area of commercial and industrial property seemed futile without the support from the banks and the assurance of liability protection for future owners.
After seven years of no action, the City of Wichita proposed to undertake a program for 29th and Mead similar to the City's commitment to resolve environmental problems at the Gilbert and Mosley Site. At the Gilbert and Mosley Site, the City's action resulted in the restoration of property values and the preservation of the City's tax base through a City-Kansas Department of Health and Environment settlement agreement. The City's position that it would take responsibility for the 29th and Mead Site relied heavily on the removal of this site from the NPL by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The City' s initial request to de-list the 29th and Mead site from the NPL was initially denied by the EPA. After two years of negotiations, discussions and correspondence, the EPA officially removed the Site from the NPL with the support of the community and local businesses.
The removal of the Site from the NPL has allowed the City to assume responsibility for the site investigation, to negotiate a Participant Agreement with potentially responsible parties, and to establish a Certificate of Release Program for innocent property owners through an agreement with local lending institutions. The City has also been able to develop a Tax Increment Finance (TIF) District to assist as a secondary funding source for the investigation and clean-up while supporting the economic redevelopment of 29th and Mead.
The City of Wichita is a partner in the Cheney Watershed program which is achieving a goal of clean water by developing successful relationships among local farmers and local, state, and federal agencies. The Cheney Watershed program addresses the serious problem of water pollution caused by sedimentation that washes into reservoirs from soil erosion, high phosphate levels from fertilizer runoff, and effluent from animal and household waste. Sedimentation shortens the life of a reservoir and decreases water quality. High phosphate levels have a negative impact on water quality and wildlife.
The Cheney Watershed Program covers 543,000 acres within five counties in south-central Kansas. More than 99 percent of the watershed is used for agricultural purposes. Farming practices within the watershed vary greatly from small dairies and diversified crop and livestock farms, to range land and large acreage under center pivot irrigation.
The watershed drains to the east into the Cheney Reservoir which was built in 1964. The Reservoir is essential to the inhabitants of south-central Kansas as a public water source, wildlife area and recreational site. The City of Wichita, the largest city in the state with a population of approximately 300,000, draws 40 to 60 percent of its daily water supply from the reservoir.
In 1991, the combination of high sedimentation and phosphate levels in Cheney Reservoir led to an increase in microscopic plant growth causing significant taste and odor problems in the drinking water. The Wichita Water and Sewer Department determined they could treat the taste and odor problem, but at a cost of $800,000 a year. This, however; would not remove sediment coming into the reservoir, and dredging to extend the life of the reservoir would be a costly and environmentally destructive process.
The innovation that has made the Cheney Watershed Program successful is the variety of diverse approaches in solving the problem, combined with the numerous partnerships of local, state and federal agencies that provide financial and technical support. In 1993, the City of Wichita formed the Cheney Task Force with: area landowners and producers, Reno County Conservation District, Sedgwick County Conservation District, Reno County Farm Service Agency, Reno County Health Department, Reno County Extension Service, Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Natural Resource Conservation Service, State Conservation Committee, Equus Beds and Big Bend Groundwater Management Districts, Bureau of Reclamation, United States Fish and Wildlife Agency, United States Geological Survey, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
A creative element of the program is that it is administered by the Citizens Management Committee (CMC), a volunteer group of local farmers. Because the City recognized the value of correcting pollution problems prior to the water entering Cheney Reservoir, the City agreed to pay for the farmers' share of installing Best Management Practices. These farm management practices include terracing, stubble mulch, conservation reserve program, grassed waterways, relocation of feedlots, animal waste treatment, abandoned well plugging and proper fertilizer application.
The key to the success of the Cheney Watershed Program is the willingness of each participant in the program to seek a solution that is mutually beneficial for everyone and also accomplishes the Program's ultimate goal of clean water. The governmental agencies involved could have regulated a solution to the pollution, but instead supported the local farmers in their efforts to find a solution.
The City of Wichita and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation are partners in an innovative demonstration project to recharge groundwater supplies. The Equus Beds Aquifer underlies portions of Sedgwick, Harvey, McPherson and Reno Counties and is located within the boundaries of Groundwater Management District No. 2. The aquifer lies under approximately 900,000 acres, and annual withdrawals from the aquifer average 157,000 acre feet. Since the 1950s water levels in the aquifer have dropped 20 to 40 feet as a result of heavy pumpage in the area, and water rights and pumpage currently exceed the aquifer's natural recharge rate of six inches per year.
The Equus Beds Groundwater Recharge Demonstration Project is a phased, small-scale $7.2 million trial project which is being used to test the feasibility of a full-scale $106 million groundwater recharge, storage, and recovery project. The full-scale project is a key part of a water supply plan under consideration by the City of Wichita that will provide additional water supply to the City and surrounding communities through the year 2050. During this period, average day water demand is projected to increase from 62 million gallons per day (MGD) to 125 MGD, and peak day demand is projected to increase from 125 MGD to 250 MGD.
The groundwater recharge project includes the capture of above base flow water from the Little Arkansas River and the use of that water to recharge the area of the Equus Beds where the City currently has water supply wells. Above base flow is defined as water which is generated from rainfall runoff and exceeds the base river flow established by the State. The project will benefit all users of the Equus Beds Aquifer by: Adding up to 104 billion gallons (or 319,000 acre feet) of water to aquifer storage for use to meet the City's demands; reducing power cost for pumping, for both the City and irrigators, because of higher groundwater levels; and protecting the aquifer from water quality deterioration from the intrusion of natural and man-made sources of salt water.
The Groundwater Recharge Project includes several phases. The first phase was a study, completed in 1995, that evaluated all available data to see if the concepts appeared to be feasible. The second phase was the installation of a test well to evaluate the quantity and quality of bank storage water. The data collected has confirmed the existence of bank storage water, and has confirmed that it occurs with enough frequency to justify continuing to consider it a water resource.
The third phase is the construction and operation of demonstration facilities over a two- to three-year period to confirm that water from the Little Arkansas River, as either surface water or bank storage water, can be used to recharge the Equus Beds. The facilities will include various types of percolation pits to evaluate the recharge of both surface water and bank storage water, as well as injection wells to evaluate direct injection of bank storage water.
This innovative Equus Beds Groundwater Recharge Demonstration Project would have not been possible without the successful partnership between the City of Wichita and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The initial results of this partnership point to a new method to effectively recharge groundwater supplies, a method which will benefit communities all over the world.
Contact: Office of the Mayor, (316) 268-4331
The United States Conference of Mayors
J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
Copyright ©1996, U.S. Conference of Mayors, All rights reserved.