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Wichita might fine residents over water use

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- Wichita officials will consider imposing fines of $1,000 per month on residents and businesses that use too much water as part of a short-term plan to respond to dwindling water supplies.

The water conservation plan was unveiled Wednesday by city officials seeking to remedy issues with the drought-plagued Cheney Reservoir, which supplies 64 percent of Wichita's water. The reservoir is forecast to dry up in mid-2015, The Wichita Eagle reported (http://bit.ly/10SYSzf ).

The plan does not include any rate increases, city officials said. It will go before the city council on June 4.

Alan King, Wichita's public works director, said the idea is to eliminate 50 percent of the city's summertime outdoor irrigation, which is almost 25 percent of the city's yearly water usage.

The $1,000 fine would be imposed on any resident or business that uses 310 percent of their average winter water usage in a month. Ben Nelson, a public works official, told the committee that number is "about what it would take to keep a lawn alive."

The users would get a month's grace period through a letter warning them that they are facing the fine. A second month of high water use would result in a $1,000 fine.

Several committee members questioned the fairness of the fine and proposed graduated penalties for overusing water. They also pushed for the fines to be temporary, removing them once the reservoir's levels rise.

But City Manager Robert Layton said a current charge of $8.56 per thousand gallons for some overuse has not encouraged water conservation.

The conservation plan also focuses on drawing more water from the Equus Beds Aquifer and less from Cheney Reservoir. King, however, said the aquifer is overused and doesn't have enough water because of the drought.

"Right now, this is like starting a savings account when you're unemployed," he said.