By 2050, Wichita's water supply is expected to fall short of demand. But this Kansas city is working on a solution: aquifer storage and recovery, also known as artificial groundwater recharge. Instead of taking water out of the earth, the recharge system puts it back in.

"In the past, we've relied on surface and groundwater resources," says Gerald Blain, Wichita's water supply projects administrator. "Unfortunately, the water isn't always there, so the recharge system helps the shortages."

Recharge works by capturing above-normal flows from the Little Arkansas River. The excess water is brought several miles through a pipeline and injected underground through a well. It is then treated and held in an aquifer for use when needed. Eventually, the water will be pumped into the municipal water supply.

The artificial groundwater recharge demonstration project started five years ago, funded with $3 million from federal sources and $3 million from water utility customers. The city has been able to recharge 300 billion gallons of water, which are now stored underground.

The project was modeled after similar programs in California and Florida. However, California and Florida use single confined aquifers, while Wichita operates from shared aquifers. Within the city, there are a thousand domestic and agricultural supply wells in one aquifer.

The success of the project has translated into the building of new facilities 20 miles north of Wichita that have the ability to pump 100 million gallons a day--10 times the previous capacity.

Pumping is dependent on peak flows from the Little Arkansas River. The past year has been pretty dry in Wichita, leaving the system closed since early October.