City explores options for additional water
Water is something we usually take for granted, said Lloyd Wisdom, an operator at the city water plant.
But if Tonganoxie doubles in size within the next eight to 10 years as predicted, local citizens won't be able to take it for granted any more. The city's existing water supply couldn't handle the demand, said City Administrator Chris Eppley.
Currently, the city uses about 120 million gallons of water each year, all of it pulled from wells near the water treatment plant or piped here from Bonner Springs.
One option the city is exploring is to drill new wells near the Kansas River, 12 miles away, and to pipe the water to Tonganoxie.
"We're trying to secure property or test-hole drilling sites down by the river right now," Eppley said. "We want to put some test wells down and see what the makeup of the water is."
This would help determine how much water is available, and to what specifications a water treatment plant would have to be constructed, Eppley said.
Groundwater under the influence of surface water, as the new wells would produce, requires a different treatment process, Eppley said.
"We can't take the water that we get from near the Kansas River and treat it in our current plant. It's a different process completely."
The city's water supply comes from two wells near the water treatment plant about a mile east of town on Fourth Street and from water piped from Bonner Springs.
"The problem that we have is that our wells are not producing at the level that is required for us to sustain development," Eppley said.
Kent Heskett, superintendent of the water treatment plant, said the city's water use has been averaging 350,000 gallons a day.
"Of that, about 250,000 gallons is pumped from the city's wells, and the rest is piped in from Bonner Springs," Heskett said.
The city can receive a maximum of about 216,000 gallons a day from Bonner Springs.
The city's 99-foot-deep wells were dug by hand in the 1920s, Heskett said. The wells are one-fourth of a mile apart and are connected by a 10-foot-wide tunnel.
The water is pumped out of the tunnel and then filtered through tanks filled with sand and anthracite coal where the iron and manganese are removed, Heskett said. After chlorination, the water is stored in tanks outside the water plant. When the levels in the water towers drop below a certain level, more water is pumped to them.
The water towers are usually replenished, or topped off, about four times a day. Heskett said the tank on Hubbel Hill west of town holds 500,000 gallons and the tower on U.S. Highway 24-40 east of town has a 250,000 gallon capacity.
The city has been purchasing water from Bonner Springs for about 10 years, Heskett said. In 1989, the city purchased nearly six million gallons of water, and in 1999, the city purchased close to 22 million gallons. This addition to the water supply helped residents during this summer's drought. "If we hadn't had the Bonner Springs water, we would have had to put water restrictions on everyone," he said.
The city pays Bonner Springs about $1.75 for every 1,000 gallons of water purchased, said Linda Lewis, city clerk. Karen Daniels, deputy city clerk, said that local customers pay a minimum of $5.65 a month for water, and that they are additionally billed $3 for every 1,000 gallons of water used.
Typically, about one-third of the water used in Tonganoxie during the summer and fall comes from Bonner Springs. During the rest of the year the city's wells supply what is needed.
Overall, the levels in the wells have dropped, Heskett said. "There is less water now than there was 20 years ago." The depth varies from 12 to 14 feet, he said, but added that he could remember a few years back when the levels climbed to 26 feet.
Wisdom has been studying city water records to see what the city's future needs will be.
He said the city wells must not be pumped below the nine-foot level, because at that point, sediments start to come up with the water.
"I'm pretty well convinced that if the city's population doubles," Wisdom said, "we're not going to be able to handle it with our current resources."