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Understanding the Value — and Importance — of Water Resources

understanding the value - and importance - of water

To me, the goal of the Imagine a Day Without Water Campaign is to remind people how precious our water resources are — and just how much water affects our daily lives. Nowhere is that more evident than in our nation’s heartland.

Here in Kansas City, we tend to be a water-rich community, with abundant drinking water supplies.  However, just a few hours west of us, many communities are in great need of water resources, struggling to find enough supply to support future generations. Because we have clients on both sides of the water divide, we specialize in understanding the water needs for all communities.

For communities to better plan for and preserve their water supply, they need to determine what kind of supply they have, the availability of that supply for future generations and the possible need to diversify it. In Wichita, Kansas, as in many midwestern Plains communities, longevity requires a plentiful supply of water.

Blessed with a surface water supply from the Cheney Reservoir and a groundwater supply from the Equus Beds Aquifer, Wichita was in better shape than many communities in this region. However, the Plains states are susceptible to prolonged droughts, and heavy use of the city’s groundwater source had depleted the aquifer, making it inclined to groundwater contamination.

For Wichita to protect its long-term water supply, it added a third water supply source to the mix: aquifer storage and recovery, allowing the city to capture and store excess rainfall in the ground until needed. This third water supply draws excess flows from the Little Arkansas River during times of rain, treats the water to drinking water standards through a sophisticated membrane and advanced oxidation plant, and reinserts it into the Equus Beds Aquifer for future withdrawal. The project has been a huge success, with water levels in the depleted aquifer now reaching nearly 100 percent recovery, allowing the city to protect an important component of its water supply.

This supply diversification also provides redundancy and many safeguards to this Kansas community. In times of drought, the city will have a groundwater supply; in times of plentiful rain, the city can use surface water and collect excess flows to replenish the groundwater supply. Flexibility, or the availability of having different types of supplies, is critical for Wichita to continue providing plenty of water for future generations.

As cities and communities already know, reinvesting in water infrastructure takes time and money. Though some financing options exist at the state and federal levels, it ultimately will be up to municipalities, the communities that built the water infrastructure the first time around, to determine how to reinvest and rebuild their systems. It requires forward thinking and commitment, as well as creativity and ingenuity, to not just reinvest in our infrastructure but also make those systems last longer and provide more ancillary benefits to the communities they serve.

We can all learn more about how water impacts our daily lives. When we do that, we should all be able to make better decisions about how we use our most precious resource, as well as how we protect and preserve it.

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Ron Coker
Written by Ron Coker
Ron Coker is senior vice president and general manager of the Water Group at Burns & McDonnell, where he’s responsible for the operation of the firm’s water group globally and specializes in capital delivery initiatives with municipalities.

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