Gov. Kathleen Sebelius issued a drought warning Thursday for 53 counties as Kansas continues to bake under hot, dry conditions.
The warning covers all of western Kansas and the northern tier of counties. The remaining 52 counties of central and eastern Kansas are under a drought watch. Sebelius also has declared four counties disaster areas because of drought conditions, seeking federal assistance.
Much of the state hasn't received significant precipitation in more than a month.
A warning indicates presence of a severe drought, as confirmed by the Kansas Water Office and the national Drought Monitor. A watch reflects a moderate drought.
"This condition is taking a real toll on crops, on pastures and on stream flows," Sebelius said during a Statehouse news conference. "It's bad, bad, bad conditions when you're looking for moisture."
The executive order starts the state's drought response team, which met Thursday morning.
Sebelius said some communities in the warning area were asking for voluntary water conservation. In addition, the fountains in front of the Curtis Building and the Judicial Center in Topeka have been shut off, and the governor has recommended that watering of the Statehouse lawn be curtailed until conditions improve.
Matt Allen, assistant city manager in Garden City, said the region's good conditions earlier in the year deteriorated after nearly three weeks of 100-degree heat and strong winds that "cooked everything.
"We had rain Monday and Tuesday, but it's been really sporadic," Allen said. "We could get rain in the central part of town and the northeast part gets only drizzles. Cimarron hasn't gotten any rain at all."
Garden City residents have been asked not to water their lawns during the day, Allen said, but no water rationing is taking place.
Olathe has asked residential and commercial customers to reduce nonessential water use. The city has experienced record water usage of as high as 26.43 million gallons daily, 1.3 million gallons more than 2002's record demands.
City officials are shutting off public fountains, curtailing washing public vehicles, flushing water mains and reducing water for Olathe facilities and parks.
Some restricting of water use under the state water plan has begun as well, Sebelius said, including some junior water rights to pump groundwater.
Dickinson, Jewell, Morton and Republic counties have been declared disaster areas because of the drought. The four counties also were declared part of federal disaster areas earlier this spring as a result of floods and tornadic weather.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., has co-sponsored the National Drought Preparedness Act, geared at preventing catastrophic losses because of prolonged drought conditions.
Roberts said the act would coordinate federal drought programs and policies, provide for better drought surveillance and contains provisions to allow states, American Indian tribes and local units of government to implement drought preparedness plans.
"I am hopeful it will help minimize and prevent the extensive damages we have seen in the past," Roberts said in a statement.
Lane County farmer Vance Ehmke said the hot, dry conditions so far this summer were not normal.
"It has it been extremely hot and dry and windy. We are sitting here approaching a catastrophe on summer row crops," Ehmke said.
Officials say July has been the driest on record in Hays since 1935, when only 0.01 inches was recorded, a story that is being repeated statewide. For the month, average rainfall has been 22 percent of normal for Kansas.
Not only are dryland producers feeling the heat, but Ehmke said irrigators were, too.
"They are having to pump like hell and fuel costs are real high," he said.
His other concern is whether there will be enough moisture for wheat to grow healthy this fall. After two years of poor crops, Kansas harvested more than 475 million bushels of wheat in 2003, but that may be difficult to match without rain.
"If that doesn't happen it will be a long winter," Ehmke said.