When Clinton Dam was completed about 25 years ago and a city water treatment plant was built to draw water from the new federal reservoir, it seemed that Lawrence's municipal water supply concerns were over. The combined water resources of the Kansas River and Clinton Lake seemed able to serve even a growing city for the foreseeable future.
Unfortunately, a future that includes water supply and quality issues now is in sight for many Kansas cities that draw water from reservoirs like Clinton. Experts always have known that even large reservoirs eventually would start filling with sediment that would affect the quality and amount of water available from those sources. Now, those experts are saying that sedimentation is occurring much quicker than expected.
Clinton Lake had a life expectancy of 100 years; now that lifetime looks more like 70 years. Older lakes across the state are even further along in the sedimentation process. Experts now estimate that, without remedial action, the state will face a huge water supply problem in 20 to 40 years.
Steps can be taken to reduce sedimentation and dredge away or otherwise remove silt that already has settled in the lakes, but it will be costly. For example, an official with the Kansas Biological Survey said enough dredging just to keep Perry Lake stable would cost an estimated $15 million a year. Multiply that amount across the state's 93 reservoirs of various sizes and you get an idea of the problem.
On the other hand, what choice does the state have? Those 93 reservoirs supply drinking water for about 60 percent of the state's population. Allowing them to fill in simply isn't an option.
State officials are right to attack this problem now. The Kansas Water office is seeking legislative permission for a $400,000 pilot project on lake rehabilitation. That amount is the proverbial drop in the bucket, but it's a start.
So often, we take our precious water supplies for granted. The recent news about the condition of Kansas reservoirs reminds us how vital and basic it is to make sure that water keeps flowing from the tap.