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Archive for Friday, July 19, 2002

Drought dries western crops

July 19, 2002

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— The drought that helped devastate the Kansas wheat crop this year continues with fresh consequences daily.

Effective today, junior water rights holders on the Little Blue River from the Nebraska line to the gauging station near Barnes will be barred from taking water for irrigation or other purposes. That's the latest emergency order from the Kansas Division of Water Resources aimed at preserving minimum streamflows in the Little Blue and Republican rivers, Chapman Creek and the Smoky Hill River at Ellsworth.

"It hasn't rained in about a year. People are down in the dumps, for sure," said Ty Hedlund, a Montezuma banker who deals almost exclusively in agriculture lending.

It's not just farmers being affected. More cities and towns across Kansas are asking residents to cut back on water use and restrict outdoor watering.

Though some rationing has hit northeastern Kansas, it's far worse out west.

"The drought isn't over in western Kansas," said former Gov. Mike Hayden, an Atwood native now living in Lawrence. "Way out in Atwood, it's clearly the worst in 50 years, with no relief in sight. It's kind of the wildfires of Kansas, but nobody's much talking about it" on the campaign trail as the gubernatorial primary approaches.

State and federal agriculture officials are doing some things to help embattled farmers. USDA has made low-interest loans available in 41 Kansas counties.

Also, "we have emergency haying and grazing approved," on grassland set-asides, said Lisa Taylor of the Kansas Department of Agriculture. "The state of Kansas also allows roadside haying arranged through the Department of Transportation."

Taylor said final figures weren't in for this year's wheat crop, but early numbers show yields averaging 34 bushels per acre, down from 40 bushels per acre last year.

"And last year wasn't a good year, either," Taylor said. "I just came from Garden City, looking at some corn. The corn's not looking very good."

People she talked to in southwest Kansas, Taylor said, "were comparing it to the Dust Bowl and saying it was probably worse than that. People who had planted trees to control soil erosion are now seeing those trees die because it's been so dry. Not a good year."

Thursday on Capitol Hill, U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., co-sponsored a bill aimed at better coordinating drought response among government agencies.

"Kansas producers are suffering," Roberts said. "Over 1.5 million acres of Kansas wheat was abandoned prior to harvest. These conditions did not occur overnight and are the culmination of months of abnormally dry conditions."

Provisions of the National Drought Preparedness Act:

Establishes the National Drought Council, designating FEMA as the lead federal agency, to coordinate federal drought programs.

Establishes a National Drought Policy to provide tools for federal, state, tribal and local governments to address drought devastation.

Develops a National Drought Monitoring Network to improve assessment of current drought conditions and forecasting of future droughts.

Authorizes states, Indian tribes, local governments, and regional water providers to develop and implement drought preparedness plans.

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