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Drought might force Wichita to idle fountains

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- With the ongoing drought threatening to sharply reduce the city's ability to provide enough water for its residences, Wichita officials are considering a plan that would idle the city's $3.5 million WaterWalk Waltzing Waters fountain system for the year.

Cheney Reservoir west of Wichita provides 60 percent of the city's water, The Wichita Eagle reported (http://bit.ly/Yxtc3L ).

City officials have said the reservoir could dry up by mid-2015 if the drought persists, which could leave the city without enough water to meet demand.

Keeping the fountains turned off is part of a drought plan city officials are preparing for residential and commercial users. Until the plan is adopted, the WaterWalk fountains won't be activated, City Manager Robert Layton said.

"Nothing will be determined until the mayor and city council review the recommended drought plan and approve a course of action," Layton said Friday in an email.

The fountains incorporate 150-foot-high streams of water synchronized to lights in music and are located east of Gander Mountain. They had been in storage since 2009 while the WaterWalk master plan underwent changes, and were operated last fall until shutting down for the winter.

The announced schedule for this year called for daily shows at 12:30 p.m., 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. from April through December.

The fountains are part of a larger $41 million development agreement between the city and WaterWalk, owned by a local developer.

Public works records show the city used about 464 million gallons last year and pumped out 20.1 billion to all utility customers, with the city accounting for about 2.3 percent of all water used.

Interactive fountains used by children also could be idled by the proposed cuts.

Public Works director Alan King said reports of water loss at the WaterWalk fountains also are being investigated. More information about the future of the fountains this summer should be available next week, he said.