Wichita’s Water Supply Management Earns International RecognitionWe’re thrilled and honored that our work on the Wichita Equus Beds Aquifer Storage & Recovery (ASR) project was among the four amazing projects nominated for this year’s Global Water Awards Project of the Year.

To be in the running alongside remarkable projects from the Netherlands, Canada and California is an honor itself. But we’re also incredibly proud of how the ASR project’s innovative approach achieved its goal — helping the Wichita community secure a sustainable water supply by protecting and supporting an aquifer that provides sufficient water for municipal and agricultural users in the area.

The Equus Bed solution quickly gained international attention. The world’s largest advanced oxidation facility treats water from the Little Arkansas River during high-flow periods and injects it into the overdrawn Equus Beds aquifer.

The Issue Wichita Faced

The City of Wichita is dependent on the Equus Beds for the majority of its water supply. The ever-growing demands of area municipalities and agricultural users far exceed the system’s natural recharge rate, causing significant — and problematic — aquifer depletion.

By 1993, water levels in the aquifer had dropped up to 40 feet from its original levels — a loss of more than 200,000 acre-feet of water.

The dependence on the aquifer compounded the imminent threat of chloride contamination caused by abandoned oilfield developments and other sources. As water levels quickly depleted, the aquifer was threatened with increased contamination from oilfield brine improperly disposed of in the 1930s and the naturally occurring chloride deposits in the Arkansas River.

Faced with the double threat of chloride contamination to a shrinking water supply, Wichita officials quickly realized that corrective actions were necessary to prevent the Equus Beds aquifer system from becoming unfit for drinking or irrigation.

An Innovative Solution

When facing a critical water shortage two decades ago, the city of Wichita made a bold move to replenish its most valuable resource. City leaders were interested in doing more than securing potential water supplies; they wanted to protect existing water sources from depletion and contamination.

They partnered with Burns & McDonnell to develop a core component of the water supply program: an innovative solution to restore the 900,000 acre Equus Beds aquifer while capturing additional unallocated water supplies.

Now ready for operation, the Equus Bed ASR project provides a lifeline of water to local residents. Combining integrated water supply planning and technical innovation on an unprecedented scale, this project is gaining international recognition among water industry leaders.

Roughly 60 new recharge wells and basins inject more than 100 million gallons of water from the Arkansas River into the Equus Beds each day, replenishing the aquifer’s water supply to the levels necessary to meet the area’s needs.

The plan also included a cooperative partnership with agricultural producers in the Little Arkansas River watershed to establish a program that enhances and protects the water quality of the river.

With the first two phases of this innovative project already complete, the system can capture and recharge up to 35 million gallons of water per day — a promising sign for the future of Wichita and its water system.

What Makes the Project So Remarkable?

As the first Aquifer Storage & Recovery project in Kansas, the planning team behind the Equus Beds had to demonstrate the faculties and confidence necessary to work with a variety of state agencies in creating a remarkable — and realistic — plan for success.

The unique and precise design allows the system to be powered up and shut off at a moment’s notice, a crucial feature for a plant that must adjust to rapidly changing supply and demand needs while maintaining the aquifer’s water levels.

The Equus Beds also boasts the world’s largest advanced oxidation system — six times larger than anything of its kind — allowing the system to filter out surface water contaminants like atrazine. Thanks to this impressive feature, the water brought through the system enhances and secures the natural aquifer supply for future generations.

Throughout the planning process, a wide range of publicity and awareness campaigns informed and engaged Wichita residents on the importance of the project to prevent a potentially disastrous environmental water crisis.

Since the excitement of the 2015 Global Water Awards, Wichita launched operations of its intermittent water supply plant to store the bounty from Kansas’s April showers. The system will capture the rainwater, treat it and store it underground to fulfill future needs.

Brian Meier, a project manager for Burns & McDonnell, has been serving municipal and industrial water clients for nearly 30 years. He has extensive experience in regulatory compliance, primarily related to public water supply and including Kansas Department of Health and Environment requirements and Division of Water Resources rules and regulations.