A city hall news event sought to counter a news story that highlighted problems with Wichita’s water supply, but it seemed more like a political campaign event.
Longwell pushed back against the article’s reporting, perhaps the most concerning being: “Wichita’s entire water system has a ‘significant risk’ of failure and lacks redundancy, meaning if a major asset fails, it can’t be fixed without shutting the whole plant down.” The article also reported, “Deferred maintenance has piled up over the years.”
The mayor presented an infographic produced by the city showing steps the city has taken since 2011 to maintain existing water infrastructure and prepare for the future. (Curiously, this is available on the city’s Facebook page but not at wichita.gov, the city’s website.) According to him, the city has been managing the city’s water needs effectively.
This, however contradicts a statement the city council issued in 2015, when Longwell was mayor. As part of the Wichita-Sedgwick County Community Investments Plan, the city council concluded: “Decades of under-investment and deferred maintenance in Wichita’s water, sewer and stormwater infrastructure requires the City to be aggressive in protecting what assets it already has (especially replacing aging pipe infrastructure) and making future water and sewer facility enhancements to meet required treatment and discharge standards.” 2
(Of course, we could conclude that the statement and plan from 2015 doesn’t have any real meaning, which if true, causes me to wonder why we undertake these exercises.)
The mayor also addressed the 2014 proposed Wichita city sales tax, $250 million of which was earmarked for a water project. The mayor correctly explained that that money was not to repair existing infrastructure or build a new main water processing plant. Instead, it was to expand the Aquifer Storage and Recovery system and build an additional pipeline from it to the city. That would have provided what the city called “drought protection.”
It’s important for Longwell to explain that the 2014 sales tax, if it had passed, would not have addressed the issues with the current water plant. This is important because Longwell voted against the sales tax. If today’s voters thought the 2014 sales tax would have fixed the water plant and saw that Longwell voted against it, that might be a negative factor against Longwell.
Which brings us to the final point. The press conference was a thinly disguised campaign event for the mayor, conducted using city facilities and staff, complete with a cartoon-like infographic. If the information is important, the city should present it plainly, not in a cumbersome graphic spread three panels wide that the mayor can post on Facebook and Twitter.
Wichita Eagle reporting on this event is at Wichita on track for new water plant in 5 years, city says.
- Swaim, Chance. Wichita’s water plant: ‘Every hour that thing is running, it could fail.’ Wichita Eagle, July 21, 2019. Available at https://www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/article232826482.html. ↩
- Wichita-Sedgwick County Community Investments Plan. Approved by Wichita City Council on December 8, 2015. Available at https://www.wichita.gov/Planning/Pages/Comprehensive.aspx. ↩