Archive for Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Parched city seeks relief

Dry June sees record water usage

July 4, 2006


Lawrence's lawn-waterers set a record last month.

"We used more water in June than we have in any other June for as long as the city's been keeping records - that's a long time," said Chris Stewart, the city's acting utilities director.

The record, Stewart said, is tied to more people watering more lawns.

"It's due to irrigation," he said. "For the month, we were about 100 million gallons over what we usually do."

That equates to about 200 swimming pools the size of Lawrence Outdoor Aquatic Center, he said.

"We average 18.25 million gallons a day," Stewart said. "The 100 million is on top of that."

Lawrence recorded a little under 5.25 inches of rain in May and June, according to the National Weather Service.

"That's the seventh-driest May and June that we know of," said NWS meteorologist Kyle Poage. "Our records go back to 1887."

Historically, the region's May-June average rainfall is close to 9.25 inches.

"It's pretty dry," Poage said. The Lawrence area's driest May-June, he said, was 2.44 inches in 1901.

In May, Lawrence had about four inches of rain; in June, a dismal 1.14 inches.

Currently, the city's water treatment facilities are operating at "close to 80 percent capacity," Stewart said.

"When we start getting close to, say, 90 percent, we'll be talking to our larger irrigators about voluntary conservation," he said. The group, he said, includes Kansas University, Haskell Indian Nations University, the golf courses and the city's Parks and Recreation Department.

"If that doesn't get us to where we need to be, we'll go on to the next phase," he said, referring to restrictions on nonessential water use.

Stewart said he had no way to know when - or if - restrictions would be imposed. "I don't have a crystal ball to know how much longer this dry spell is going to last," he said. "But I'm working on a memo right now to let the City Commission know where we are."

Lawrence draws its water from the Kansas River and from Clinton Reservoir. Both supplies, Stewart said, are "in good shape."

Agriculture worries

The same cannot be said about the area's corn and soybean crops.

"For every day that goes by without rain, it's looking worse and worse," said Douglas County Extension Service Agent for Agriculture Bill Wood.

"Soybeans, right now, ought to be two feet high," he said. "They're probably a foot high."

The seed corn crop - not to be confused with sweet corn - is at the stage, Wood said, where the plants "decide" how many kernels to "put on the cob."

He's not optimistic. "The way things are now," Wood said, "I'm afraid there won't be many kernels on the cob - and that assumes the plants survive. They may not."

He added, "It's not going good."

The drought also has taken a toll on area lawn crews.

"It's definitely hurt. The grass isn't growing, there's less to mow," said Maria Gibson, office manager at Willowridge Landscaping. "We haven't laid anybody off, but we just had a guy quit to take a job where he can get more hours. He won't be replaced right away."

Gardeners, too, are reeling.

"It's very dry - I don't know how else to describe it," said Ken Lohrentz, a certified master gardener and Lawrence resident. "I'm watering frequently."

At Clinton Parkway Nursery & Garden Store, 4900 Clinton Parkway, owner Ann Peuser said she's worried about what's ahead. "What concerns me," she said, "is that it's a lot hotter and drier earlier than usual. We still have all of July and August to go, and they're our hottest and driest months."

Peuser, Lohrentz and Wood offered a few lawn-watering tips:

¢ Water in the morning rather than early evening.

"As a general rule, it's better that a plant's leaves be dry at night - you want them dry at night, wet in the morning," Wood said. "It lessens the likelihood of fungus and disease."

¢ Water thoroughly once or twice or week rather than a lesser amount each day.

"It's better to water more less frequently than it is to water less more frequently," Lohrentz said.

An inch of water, he said, is considered thorough and enough to keep a lawn alive.

¢ Don't forget the trees. "Chances are your lawn is going to come back," Wood said. "Your trees may not."

¢ "Mulch keeps the soil cool and the moisture in," Peuser said. Also, garden stores now sell "Tree Gators," nylon bags that fill with water, leaking slowly into the ground over four or five hours.

-Staff writer Mike Belt contributed to this report.


good_kitty 11 years, 9 months ago

stop watering your damn lawns people! Nobody cares if your lawn is green except for other lawn-vain people and why should you care what other shallow people think? "Ooooh, watch out for those neighbors, their lawn is brown, they must be bad people."

flames_over_the_wasteland 11 years, 9 months ago

Has anybody's tap water tasted / smelled strange lately? My water has for about a week, and I'm wondering what's going on . . .

Jay_Z 11 years, 9 months ago


It's not a matter of what other people think. For some people a lawn is an investment. For others who enjoy gardening and such, they take pride in keeping their lawns looking nice.

I recently purchased my home and had sod laid in the front yard. You bet your ass I water it almost daily with the heat we've had.....I'm not gonna let it die b/c some moron such as yourself doesn't like it when people water their yards.

redneck 11 years, 9 months ago

Maybe we should start conserving water now, instead of waiting until it gets worse. Here is an idea! Stop watering in the middle of the day and don't let the water run down the gutter as if there is no tomorrow. Dillons and Quick shop @ 6th and Wakarusa do this every day of the week. How about you get one of those new fangled devices that AUTOMATICALLY turn the water on at 4am. That way the water doesn't evaporate as much. I was told that like 68% of the adult population in Lawrence have some kind of a degree. With that many intelligent people living here, you would think that the people who run Lawrence could figure out how to stop wasting water. Here is another idea. Plant buffalo grass and you will only have to water it thourghly once a month. I used to live in Hays where they are now begging for water and I only had to water my buffalo grass once a month. It really does turn green if you water it and throw some fertilizer on it once in a while. It's not quite as dark green as bluegrass, but who said that grass is supposed to be that dark green anyway. Buffalo grass is native to Kansas. In other words, buffalo grass is what was here when the settlers came to this area. I know if we really wanted to conserve water, that we could figure out a way to get it done. This used to be a desert of sorts and it will become a desert again if we don't pull our heads out of the sand and tackle this task head on.

Steve Mechels 11 years, 9 months ago

For those of you who keep saying "don't water your lawns" keep in mind that there are other reasons for watering. If you have soil with a high clay content, when it gets very dry it shrinks. Why do you think there are 2" cracks in the soil, especially near the area where it dries first (e.g., next to the curb or sidewalk)? If your soil shrinks up too much you will have cracked sidewalks and foundations.

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