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Archive for Thursday, July 20, 2006

Lakes drained to aid barge traffic

Plan blasted; reservoirs could drop 6 ft.

July 20, 2006

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It's the hottest time of the year and the federal government is taking water from the lakes that feed the Kansas River. State officials are upset and want it to stop, but say there is nothing they can do about it.

"We've been opposed to it the whole time," said Earl Lewis, an operations manager for the Kansas Water Office. "It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, frankly."

On Wednesday, the sluice gates at Perry Reservoir were opened to send water down the Kaw to the Missouri River to help boost its flow enough to better support barge traffic.

And the flow of water from Perry, Milford and Tuttle Creek reservoirs will continue to pick up until as much as 4,000 cubic feet of water per second is flowing. The river only puts out 200 cubic feet of water per second in the dry summer.

That means the lake levels at Perry and the others will likely drop 3 feet or more, depending on how much rain falls the rest of the summer and how much water the U.S. Corps of Engineers decides the Missouri River needs.

Critics of the process say the lakes are nowhere near large enough to make a dent in Missouri River traffic, and that lowering the levels hurts both recreation on the lakes and the fish and wildlife that rely upon them.

Perry resident Frank Tibbet casts his line out into the Delaware River early Wednesday evening just south of where the Perry Lake spillway connects with the Delaware and eventually leads to the Kansas River. The Army Corps of Engineers at Perry Lake was ordered to open the sluice gates to send water to the Kansas River and then into the Missouri River in an effort to boost water levels to help barge traffic.

Perry resident Frank Tibbet casts his line out into the Delaware River early Wednesday evening just south of where the Perry Lake spillway connects with the Delaware and eventually leads to the Kansas River. The Army Corps of Engineers at Perry Lake was ordered to open the sluice gates to send water to the Kansas River and then into the Missouri River in an effort to boost water levels to help barge traffic.

"If you look at the size of the lakes in Kansas as opposed to the size of the river, they're not the same scale," Lewis said. "How much do you have to have before these guys feel comfortable?"

When the corps opens the dam gates on the lakes, water pours into the Kaw, through Lawrence and other Kansas river towns and eventually down to the Missouri.

This summer's round of draining began July 7 and will increase until the mandated flow levels are reached.

Boat repairs

In the process, the lakes - specifically Perry Lake - may drop as much as 6 feet below typical pool levels, leaving swaths of exposed shoreline and boats in need of repairs after bottoming out in the shallower-than-normal waters.

Corps officials admit the massive amounts of water from Perry and other lakes adds only inches to the Missouri's depth, and then for only a few weeks. The increase is not enough to make a serious difference in a river barge's ability to navigate up or down the muddy Missouri, officials say.

Steve Adams, a Natural Resource Coordinator for Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, said that the drainings have been more frequent in recent years, which can slow the lakes' recovery time when pool levels drop several feet.

"Now, in the last three or four years, they're coming in every year and asking for water," Adams said. "We're concerned about releasing those waters."

Recreation industry

Adams said his primary concern was for people coming to the lake to boat and swim.

Recreation as an industry is essential to the state's economy, Adams said, and when water levels fall during the height of the lake's busiest season, it hurts local businesses and their patrons.

At Perry Lake Yacht and Marina, manager Brian Best said he has seen the draining's harmful impact. Store traffic and gasoline sales fall when more and more people damage boats on the lower-than-usual lake and stop coming, he said.

"It's detrimental to our business," he said. "It just starts scaring people."

Even this year, Best said he had seen several engines and boats damaged from hitting bottom. That brings business to the service shops, but not the kind of business Best wants to see, he said.


Signs posted along the overlook of the spillway at Perry Lake warn visitors of rapidly rising water levels when the dam is opened. The Army Corps of Engineers began draining water from the reservoir on Wednesday to aid barge traffic on the Missouri River.

Signs posted along the overlook of the spillway at Perry Lake warn visitors of rapidly rising water levels when the dam is opened. The Army Corps of Engineers began draining water from the reservoir on Wednesday to aid barge traffic on the Missouri River.

And unless the rain begins pouring, the problem isn't going to get any better through the summer.

"Lake Perry suffers," Best said. "They should be draining some of the lakes that aren't used as much for recreation."

Under pressure

Steve Spalding, a water control official for the corps, said that the corps used all three lakes to boost navigation waters on the river primarily because Congress authorized their use for that purpose. Clinton Lake was not authorized to be tapped to support Missouri River navigation, so it is not subject to the corps' demands for more Kansas water.

Because of the federal authorization, the corps has been under near-constant pressure from other states along the Missouri River basin to keep all sources of additional water open and operational, Spalding said.

But he acknowledged the Kansas lakes provide a much smaller percentage of water to the Missouri than other, larger reservoirs near Omaha, and that if one of the Kansas lakes was removed from the system, Missouri River levels would not change much.

"If any one of those (Kansas) lakes stopped operating for navigation, navigation would go on," he said.

Barge traffic low

But Spalding said companies that ship goods along the river created the need for additional water flow, even if that means just 4 or 5 extra inches. The corps tries yearly to meet the barge traffic's target depth and the water flow needed to get supplies up and down the river.

"They need to have reliability on the river before they can operate on the river," he said.

Corps data reviewed by the Journal-World shows that barge traffic on the hundreds of miles of river between Sioux City, Iowa, and St. Louis has been low or nonexistent the past month, with only three commercial vessels using the river at one time.

Between June 15 and this week, many of the vessels that typically carry goods, including the Jennie Dehmer and Leslie B, were taken out of service until river levels increased, the records showed.

But Adams said even if the Missouri's levels were low, they weren't unusually so and that the corps shouldn't tap Kansas lakes to boost the river a few inches for so little traffic.

"When you have a couple of boats a month working on the system, it's hard to understand why that's being justified."

Comments

Quigebo 8 years, 5 months ago

Draining the lake is the top-side problem, sedimentation is the bigger bottom-side problem that will be with us forever, regardless of the corps. Kansas reservoirs WILL fill with sediment, the only question is how fast. Dredging on these large reservoirs WILL be cost prohibative.

prioress 8 years, 5 months ago

How true; the lakes will eventually be swamps, then new pastures; I have mixed emotions about the navigation situation, but it's another example of taxpayer money supporting private corporations. In this case, it's probably to our mutual benefit.

Another thought: Without the flooding and navigational concerns, most of the big lakes probably would never have been built, squelching housing growth and development in many areas that have no alternative water source.

The final question: Where will Lawrence get enough water if/when Clinton no longer produces?

lunacydetector 8 years, 5 months ago

the photograph in the article looks just like clinton lake's spillway...

rayikeo 8 years, 5 months ago

Water water sent at large

Water enough to float a barge

What have we done before we think

Where is the water we need to drink

by rayikeo

hipper_than_hip 8 years, 5 months ago

The lakes will have to be dredged, as they're needed for flood control. The corps won't allow a repeat of 1951.

prioress 8 years, 5 months ago

rayikeo: I agree with you, but the reason the feds put money into the lake construction was so they could have the water when they wanted it for barges. "Contracts" you know.......

OldEnuf2BYurDad 8 years, 5 months ago

I would think that topsoil providers would be glad to dredge for free. They are always advertizing "river bottom" soil on their bags.

Jeteras 8 years, 5 months ago

This is a sore subject for me having a boat at Lake Perry marina and living in an area that we get our home water from Perry.. How would one go about writing congress or making them aware that the consequences far far outweigh the benefits in this situation?

scott3460 8 years, 5 months ago

"This is a sore subject for me having a boat at Lake Perry marina and living in an area that we get our home water from Perry.. How would one go about writing congress or making them aware that the consequences far far outweigh the benefits in this situation?"

I suppose this was meant seriously, but it ought to be clear by now that this President and those in control of Congress have business interests at heart, and little else. They couldn't give two hoots about some poor individual who stands in the way of an important campaign contributor making money. But then, this is the crew that a slim majority of you bozos voted in, so enjoy your just deserts. And maybe think a bit before you vote in November and vote for the candidate or party that supports the average folk and not just the captains of industry.

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