Archive for Saturday, September 23, 2000

Kansas should fight to protect vital water resources

September 23, 2000

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It is good to learn Gov. Graves is opposed to the lowering of three large reservoirs in Kansas to help raise the level of the Missouri River to aid the barge business.

Because Milford, Tuttle Creek and Perry reservoirs were built with major federal funding, the federal government has some built-in rights to control the levels of these reservoirs. Nevertheless, it is hoped Graves and others will use their best efforts to have the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers drop its plans. If corps officials can demand that Milford, Tuttle Creek and Perry be lowered to help the barge people, it seems likely they also could demand that Clinton Lake be lowered.

This is one more illustration of why local and Kansas River valley residents and government leaders should be more concerned about the availability of water.

Gov. Graves pointed out that Milford, Tuttle Creek and Perry reservoirs and the Kansas River provide drinking water for approximately 760,000 people in cities such as Manhattan, Topeka, Lawrence and Kansas City, Kan., as well as many smaller communities, such as Eudora and DeSoto. Baldwin draws water from Clinton Lake through Lawrence's water treatment plant.

There is great concern these days about the rising prices for oil and gas and the effect those prices will have on the nation's economy during the cold winter months. These are serious concerns, and they merit much more attention than the federal government has given them.

However, fresh water is an even more vital resource.

It is understandable barge people want to have Missouri River levels high enough to operate their businesses until the winter freeze and low runoffs close the river to barge traffic. However, should the citizens and businesses along the Kansas River be harmed merely to help the barge business?

Several years ago, there was discussion about diverting a sizable amount of water from the Kansas River and sending it south to cities, such as Wichita, which face severe water shortages. Fortunately, this proposal was either defeated or put on the shelf, but it is sure to resurface when and if water needs become more serious in southern and western Kansas. The number of people living in northeast Kansas is going to increase, and with this growth will come added demands for water. Right now, there is only so much water available to meet these needs and a high percentage of this water relies on the good Lord. Rainfall, snowfall and temperature levels all play a significant role, and there is only so much humans can do to change this equation. Water conservation efforts will help but only to a limited degree.

It might be possible to build more reservoirs to capture and store water, but aside from this, there are limited means to increase the amount of fresh water for northeast Kansas. Efforts to take these limited water supplies to float barges or to meet the needs of southern Kansas should be met with fair, effective opposition.

The corps' efforts to help the barge business raises the question of just how much clout the barge people must have with corps officials. What commitment does the corps have to keep barges traveling the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, often to the detriment of those living along the Kansas River?

It should be noted that at the time reservoirs such as Milford, Tuttle Creek, Perry and Clinton were being planned, officials in these areas lobbied hard and effectively for federal assistance. Many millions of federal dollars were appropriated to build the reservoirs and, with these dollars, came rights to the operation and control of the large bodies of water. It is natural that as time goes on, the strings the feds imposed on the operation of these recreation, flood control and water retention facilities will become somewhat dimmer.

Now, the other shoe may be dropping with the corps reminding state and local officials that they have the right to take water from these reservoirs whenever they need it.

This is another example that whatever the federal government gives, it can take away.

This is true with water in reservoirs and of most every other program or activity funded by the federal government.

The main thing is that, with the Corps' ability to lower Milford, Tuttle Creek, Perry and possibly Clinton reservoirs along with the severe drought in Kansas area residents should be giving far more attention to the availability of fresh water. Too often, water is taken for granted in this part of the country, but current conditions expose the fallacy of such thinking.

Citizens and government officials along the Kansas River should be giving serious attention to how they can increase water supplies and provide for the inevitable growth in water demands in the coming years.

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