Kansas City, Mo. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may release water from three Kansas dams to aid barge navigation on the Missouri River, partially in response to a federal lawsuit that has lowered flows on the river, officials said Tuesday.
Nicole Corcoran-Basso, spokeswoman for Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, confirmed that the governor's chief counsel has attended meetings this summer discussing options for the release of water from Tuttle Creek and Perry and Milford lakes. The dams are tributaries of the Kansas River, which flows into the Missouri River. But she said no decisions had been made.
"It's something of great concern to us," Corcoran-Basso said. "We don't believe Kansas reservoirs should be depleted any more than they have already (because of drought)."
Kansas officials worry that tapping the water supply in the three dams would hurt recreation at the popular weekend destinations and affect the state's ability to respond if the drought continues.
Conservationists say the corps is simply looking for water anywhere it can find it after a federal judge ordered the agency to begin reducing water levels on the Missouri River to aid endangered and threatened bird and fish species.
The corps began cutting water releases from upstream reservoirs Sunday night and planned to continue gradual reductions until Tuesday night when it was to reach 21,000 cubic feet per second, or cfs. That is 4,000 cfs lower than the minimum releases needed for navigation.
The corps plans to begin increasing releases on Friday and will be back at minimum navigation levels by Sept. 1.
"This," said conservationist Chad Smith of the proposed releases from the Kansas dams, "would be the corps trying to find other ways to get water on the river."
Smith, director of the Nebraska field office for American Rivers, a national nonprofit river conservation organization, said the litigation focused exclusively on main-stem dams on the Missouri and did not address releases from the Kansas dams.
But John LaRandeau, a civil engineer for the Corps of Engineers in Omaha, said the only connection between the lawsuit and the proposed releases from the Kansas dams was that the lawsuit has "caused a hydrological condition on the lower river."
"We're not using this as a vehicle to get back at the lawsuit," he said.