Wichita Sylvan Grove farmer John Thaemert cannot remember ever seeing the stream that runs by his house dry up in the 47 years he has lived on the family farm where he was born.
To see the stream dry this summer brings home the severity of a drought that has plagued northwest Kansas for three years and other parts of the state for four years.
"This is worse than it was last summer," said Thaemert, who is also president of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers.
Thursday, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius signed an executive order approving an operations plan for the state's drought response team. The move comes nearly three weeks after nearly all of Kansas was listed in either a drought warning or under a drought watch.
"By approving this plan, we institute regulatory guidance to ensure that the state of Kansas responds in a timely and appropriate manner to the impact of drought upon its people, resources, and environment," Sebelius said in a statement.
The governor's action comes on the same day the Kansas Water Office released its latest drought report, which listed 53 counties in western Kansas and all those along the northern third of the state as under a drought warning. The state's other 52 counties remain under a drought watch.
In the Lawrence area, Douglas, Franklin, Johnson and Shawnee counties are in a drought watch; Jefferson, Leavenworth and Wyandotte counties are in a drought warning.
In the report, state water officials suggested additional curtailment of water use, especially restrictions for nonessential users. According to the report, 12 Kansas water suppliers have already imposed water use restrictions or have been affected by drought conditions.
The timely spring rains and cool temperatures that made for a Kansas wheat crop that featured record-matching yields did little to recharge groundwater supplies or refill reservoirs and waterways. "To say that broke the drought is laughable," Thaemert said.
Northeast Kansas is in the worst shape, according to the report. It's suffering an extreme drought, according to the official measure of drought conditions, the Palmer Drought Severity Index. The northwest part of the state is also experiencing a severe drought, while the north-central area is suffering from a moderate drought.
Drought conditions in other parts of the state range from mild to moderate, according to the index.
Under the response plan signed by the governor, three phases of government response to drought are:
l A Stage 1 watch requires the governor as well as county, municipal and public water system officials be notified. Outdoor burning bans may be imposed and public water systems may put into practice municipal water conservation plans.
l In a Stage 2 warning, water systems may put into practice stricter regulations in their municipal water conservation plan. Hay and pasture exchange programs are activated, urgent surplus water contracts from state-controlled storage is authorized and the governor may request authorization for haying and grazing of Conservation Reserve Program acres.
l In a Stage 3 emergency, emergency restrictions in municipal water conservation plans are triggered. Emergency withdrawals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoirs and state fishing lakes are authorized. The governor may request a presidential disaster declaration for drought.