Topeka The state won a legal skirmish against the Army Corps of Engineers when a federal judge ruled the agency must temporarily stop draining three Kansas lakes to help barge traffic on the Missouri River.
On Friday, U.S. District Judge Dale Saffels issued an order blocking the corps from further plans to reduce the level of Milford, Perry and Tuttle Creek lakes, until a full hearing can be conducted on the issue.
Gov. Bill Graves' spokesman, Don Brown, said the judge's order was what the governor had been hoping for.
"This injunction allows us to argue the merits of the retaining the water levels in the reservoirs without allowing the corps to release the water prior to a final ruling," Brown said.
For its part, the corps said it will obey the judge's order until it's had a chance to review its legal options.
"Certainly one of those options is an appeal. In the meantime, we will comply with the temporary restraining order," said Paul Johnston in Omaha, Neb., chief spokesman for the corps' Northwest Division, which includes Kansas.
Saffels conducted an hourlong hearing Tuesday, a day after the attorney general's office filed a lawsuit.
The corps wanted to lower Milford near Junction City, Tuttle Creek near Manhattan and Perry near Lawrence by up to 6 feet each. It already lowered Tuttle Creek by almost 3 feet.
It wanted to help lessen the effects of drought on barge traffic on the Missouri River. The state argued the ongoing drought it faces was the reason it wanted to put the brakes on the corps. River navigation is scheduled to close Dec. 1 on the Missouri.
Each lake is on a tributary of the Kansas River, which flows into the Missouri. The state said the extra water will raise the Missouri at Kansas City, Mo., by only about 1 inch. The corps disputed that figure during the hearing but said even a small increase would help barge traffic.
"Although the court has serious doubts about its authority, the court finds that it has the authority to review the decision to drain 6 feet of water of water from the three Kansas reservoirs to provide navigation support in the Missouri River," Saffels wrote in his 13-page opinion.
Saffels said lowering the lakes would dry up wetlands, which would hurt waterfowl and other migratory birds, plus create an economic hardship for marinas on two lakes and lead to the lack of recreational use on all three.
"The court finds if the defendants are not enjoined from draining the three reservoirs, the plaintiff would suffer irreparable injury," Saffels said.
Saffels said the corps didn't conduct any studies to determine the adverse impact of lowering the levels of the lakes.
He also said the state only has shown a potential threat of inadequate drinking water supply or interference with industrial purposes.
The state estimated the amount of water the corps wants to release from the three lakes is about 200,000 acre-feet. That's about 24 percent of the capacity set aside for conservation, recreation and other uses, including the water supply.