Many Fontana natives know their town’s name comes from a French word meaning “a spring-like source of water.”
That moniker now seems ironic as the city of Fontana’s well, the town’s sole water source, is at a critically low level.
While drought has significantly reduced the depth of the water table under the well over the last year, Mayor Jon Beachy said the crisis snuck up on the city’s residents.
“We had no idea the well was in the situation it was,” Beachy said. “Our water plant operator had kept us abreast that the water was pretty low. There was a month where usage was much higher than normal, and he checked, and we found out we were in a critical situation.
“With current usage, we could maintain for another month or two.”
On the evening of Dec. 13, phone calls went out to Fontana residents through the Miami County Sheriff’s Office’s Code Red system, alerting them of the shortage and asking them to conserve water, Undersheriff Wayne Minckley said. The following Saturday, the Fontana City Council declared a water emergency, which was backed up by a declaration of local disaster emergency at Wednesday’s Miami County Commission meeting.
“This is a different kind of disaster than a windstorm,” said Tim Gibbs, Miami County Emergency Management Coordinator. “It’s a disaster that’s slow in coming but you can’t stop it.”
Formally declaring a disaster can help Fontana receive assistance from the state, but they cannot depend on the state for money, he said.
Any solution is going to take a major toll on the taxpayers of Fontana. Their well has dried up, and so have federal and state disaster relief funds.
“People have to understand there’s no one to come to the rescue and take care of that cost,” Gibbs said. “It’s a scary situation in that all of the solutions cost a lot of money.”
With so little water left, city leaders are exploring short-term solutions first. At a meeting Tuesday night in Fontana, local leaders decided to hook up 13 homes to Rural Water District No. 3.
The next step, Beachy said, is to connect the city’s water plant to the water district as an emergency source. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment asks that all cities have a secondary water source, and city leaders have been exploring grant options and a line to Rural Water District No. 3 for some time, Beachy sad.
However, this solution will be costly and not quickly accomplished. County Administrator Shane Krull said the process will take time and cost around $100,000.
In this situation, Beachy and Gibbs agreed the best solution is one no one has the power to control. With the county 16 inches under its rain needs, there will have to be significant precipitation to raise the water table.
“We’re all at the mercy of how much moisture we get,” Beachy said. “We ask for lots of prayers for rain.”