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Topeka Federal officials who control Kansas dams said Wednesday that controversial releases from the reservoirs, including Lake Perry, likely will continue this year.
"We are still losing water on account of the drought," John Paul Woodley Jr., assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, told state lawmakers.
Under the Army Corps of Engineers control manual, that means water will have to be released from some Kansas reservoirs to support the navigation of barges along the Missouri River.
Lawmakers attending a joint meeting of the House and Senate budget committees didn't like hearing the news.
State Rep. Lee Tafanelli, R-Ozawkie, said the system's operating manual was put into effect in the 1940s, when there was much more barge traffic along the Missouri River.
"Maybe it's time the manual does need to be updated," Tafanelli said.
Kansas officials have long criticized the corps for releasing water from Perry, Milford and Tuttle reservoirs.
Last summer, boaters on Lake Perry were angered when the corps opened the sluice gates to release water down the Kansas River and into the Missouri River.
The drawdowns hurt boating and other forms of recreation, devastating the local businesses, critics say. Plus, they argue, the amount of water released has little effect on lifting the Missouri River for any significant length of time.
"It begs the question for me, what is the value given the consequences?" said House Appropriations Chairwoman Sharon Schwartz, R-Washington.
Woodley said he sympathized with those negatively affected by the drawdowns, but defended the releases as necessary to balance interests in the Missouri River basin.
"The reservoirs in the Kansas River reservoir system have a much better chance of year-to-year recovery than the reservoirs in the main stem of the Missouri River," he said, referring to federal reservoirs in Nebraska, Montana and North and South Dakota.
He said the Missouri River basin is entering its eighth straight year of drought. The system currently has 34 million acre-feet of water, which is 2.36 million acre-feet less than a year ago, and 23.1 million acre-feet below the conservation pools, which is the level that would have been attained with average rainfall during the past several years.
An acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover an acre to a depth of one foot, or 325,851 gallons.
Woodley said the state could avoid releases by purchasing from the federal government the navigational storage capacity of the reservoirs, which he said would cost in the tens of millions of dollars.
But state Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, said she had a problem with asking Kansas taxpayers to pay for something already built with taxpayer funds.
And if the state did purchase the navigational storage, Tafanelli said he had concerns about whether the federal government would assist in future dredging expenses to maintain the lakes.