Wichita Drought conditions so severe that the state climatologist compares them to the Dust Bowl prompted Gov. Bill Graves on Friday to issue a drought watch for five western Kansas river basins.
Affected areas include all or part of the Cimarron, Upper Arkansas, western Smokey Hill-Saline, Upper Republican and the western Solomon river basins.
Dighton farmer Don Hineman, who lives in the affected area, vaccinated his cattle Friday and took them out to pasture. He said he would still have to carry hay out to them to supplement the grass because the grazing was so poor.
"I wouldn't expect there is a lot anybody can do really," Hineman said of the drought. "I don't know what anyone can do."
He said allowing emergency grazing on conservation reserve acres may help those who have land under the Conservation Reserve Program, but many cattlemen like him don't have CRP land.
"I think we are just going to be playing it day-to-day throughout this summer," he said. "Rains are going to have to keep coming, and if they stop, we are in trouble."
Graves also activated the state's drought response team, which will meet Thursday in Topeka to further assess the situation and coordinate its responses.
Graves said he would notify county commissioners in the affected areas of the drought conditions and remind them of their responsibilities. He also said he'd notify managers of state facilities in the affected basins and tell them to implement drought provisions of their water conservation plans.
'A natural occurrence'
"We must remember that drought is a natural occurrence in Kansas," Graves said. "By monitoring conditions and keeping citizens informed, we hope to avoid a water crisis."
In Dodge City, conditions are so bad the area is in the second or even driest winter period since the state started keeping records in 1892 and that includes the Dust Bowl era and the big drought in the 1950s, said state climatologist Mary Knapp.
"In reality they are one of the wetter areas of the southwestern region which makes it even more frightening because as you go further west conditions are drier," she said.
The only reason the area is not seeing the dust storms of the 1930s is because of changes in agricultural techniques that leave residue on the fields rather than bare earth, Knapp said. Also the area has been dry for 11 to 12 months now, not the four to five years that was the case during the Dust Bowl era.
Rains are forecast for much of Kansas this weekend, but if they don't materialize, that will be a "very bad sign" because the chances are supposed to be very good for them, Knapp said.
The drought response team will discuss other action it can take Thursday.
Among the responses the state and federal agencies could take to help alleviate the drought are releasing conservation land for grazing and even disaster relief such as low interest loans, she said.