"That's because every drop is subjected to our state-of-the-art treatment process -- keeping your water so dependably good, you'll never have to think about it," the ad read.
They were talking about a lot of water -- 40 billion gallons every year, more than 115 million gallons a day sucked from the Missouri River, cleansed of disgusting bacteria and pumped into homes and businesses throughout Kansas City.
Or at least half of it, anyway.
The other half, according to documents obtained by the Pitch, goes to waste. It's treated by that all-star process only to be flushed down the proverbial toilet.
Kansas City loses water for several reasons. When firefighters tap into hydrants and spray it over burning buildings, for example, that loss is deemed acceptable. Same goes for water used to clean streets.
But when it comes to the precious natural resource flowing into public swimming pools and the city's cherished fountains, Kansas City is like a kidney -- water passes through, only to be pissed away.
Contrary to what many Kansas Citians assume, the water that will begin swirling through fountains April 1 won't always be recycled, auditors say. Studying the Parks Department's water use, Water Department staffers and engineers with Black & Veatch discovered that "water use for many of the city's fountains is once-through and not recycled." But the Water Department itself has no way of knowing how much water is going to waste. "Furthermore, many of the fountains do not have operating water meters or are not metered at all," the study reports.
Auditors say half of that water could be saved "through proper meter installation, meter maintenance and recycling of water." Such conservation could save the city between $23,000 and $40,000 a year.
Less visible but no less wasteful are seven public swimming pools that auditors say are "drained and refilled on a daily basis."
In Gillham Park, for example, children swim in a small wading pool. Each night, after the pool is cleared of kids and the lifeguards leave, the pool runs as a fountain. In the morning, it's refilled with water and used as a pool again.
Though fountains and swimming pools account for just a few of the ways Kansas City loses water, they also represent cheap and sensible ways to conserve treated water.
So far, however, the Water Department and the Parks Department haven't quite plugged the problem. In fact, officials from the Parks Department, which operates the city's fountains and swimming pools, said they had never heard about the audit's findings until the Pitch called to inquire about them.
Parks Director Terry Dopson claims the auditors got it wrong. "There are other fountains in the city that aren't recycled, but they're not ours," he says.
As for pools, Dopson says the audit refers to the city's seven "fill and draw" pools built more than forty years ago. (The city operates a total of sixteen public pools.) Because the fill-and-draw pools cannot recirculate water, they must be emptied and refilled on a regular basis. Generally, fill-and-draw pools like the one in Gillham Park are no deeper than 3 feet.
But the Water Department isn't backing away. Director Gurnie Gunter says the Parks Department might have violated a long-standing "verbal agreement" that sends free water to parks and pools across the city. "The agreement was to recirculate the water in the fountains as much as possible, and that the pools would be kept up to the level of maintenance that's required so you don't have that kind of leakage," he says.
Gunter says his department is already at work upgrading its meters at fountains and pools throughout the city. In some cases, that means installing meters for the first time. "We probably have a number of locations that are unmetered in the parks system, so the plans are to meter all those," Gunter says. "That's basically why we did [the audit], because we were starting to be concerned."
Auditors found good reason for that concern. Their conclusion: Between insufficient metering by the Water Department and wasteful usage by the Parks Department, millions of gallons of treated water go straight down the sewer each year, costing the city more than $3 million annually.
According to industry standards, a city should lose no more than 15 percent of its treated water a year. Judging by that figure, Kansas City is a catastrophe. Since 1984, the city has lost an average of 24 percent of its treated water a year. According to the audit, citywide loss in 2001 was 33 percent, and in the urban core -- from the River Market to Swope Park -- that number leaped to 48 percent.
"Forty-eight percent is a little bit of a stretch," Gunter says. "But we're losing a significant amount, and we really don't know how much."
Not surprisingly, the audit points first to the Water Department's woeful infrastructure, made up of decades-old pipes that burst at a rate eight times greater than those of comparably sized cities and meters that do not meet federal accuracy guidelines.
But auditors also kept following leaks back to Parks.
The worst single example cited was a decorative waterfall at the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center on 3700 Blue Parkway. One veteran Water Department engineer declared the site an "environmental nightmare" that "feeds a constant stream of clean water straight over the falls into the sewer." Auditors say the city could save $15,000 a year on that waterfall alone.
The first step, however, will be to prove to the Parks Department that something is wrong.
After hearing about the audit, Dopson says he dispatched his employees to fountains throughout the city. He maintains that the water in nearly all of the city's fifty fountains is recycled, including the Bruce Watkins waterfall. "That's not true," he says of the audit. "It's just not a real true statement, I guess."
Dopson does admit that water in a couple of fountains -- such as the totemesque American War Mothers Memorial on Meyer Boulevard and the Paseo -- isn't recycled. But for the most part, he challenges the Black & Veatch auditors to review their results. "Whoever did the study doesn't know what they're talking about," he says.