Three questions ... with Lew Ruona about Clinton Lake
Clinton Lake right now is doing exactly what it was built to do - hold lots and lots of floodwater.
As the lake level has climbed, boating conditions have actually fallen, but don't try to tell that to boaters who are wanting to cure their cabin fever with a trip to the lake.
"There's a lot of debris out there," said Nick Nikolic, a Kansas City, Kan., resident who was trying to boat Monday. "There are trees floating right out in the middle of the lake."
The recent rains have pushed Clinton Lake to its second-highest flood total in history. On Saturday, the lake peaked at 12.4 feet above its normal level, said Lew Ruona, the lake's project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Another way to look at it is that prior to recent heavy rains, the lake was holding about 150,000 acre feet of water. Now, it contains about 240,000 acre feet of water.
The high water has closed all but one of the lake's boat ramps, but Ruona is asking people to think twice about boating at all while the water is so high.
"The amount of debris in the lake right now is really phenomenal," Ruona said. "I saw a guy out water-skiing last week. That's really dangerous. I would use extreme caution on the lake right now."
The high water also inundated the sewer pumping stations at the Walnut and Hickory campgrounds in the Bloomington Park area, which caused Corps officials to close all bathroom and shower houses at the campgrounds.
Most campsites at the lake, however, are still open and clear of floodwaters. Ruona said he was optimistic that the lake would be in good shape for the Memorial Day weekend, which is the traditional kickoff for the summer camping and boating season.
Ruona said Monday's strong winds were beneficial because they would help push woody debris to the shores. He said his crews would be removing debris from swimming beach areas and campground sites.
The crews also will be releasing water from the lake into the Wakarusa River through the dam's gates. The Corps was releasing 3,200 cubic feet per second Monday, Ruona said. That will have the Wakarusa roaring. On a normal day, the Corps releases about 20 cubic feet per second into the river.
More rain is the biggest threat to the Corps effort to get the lake down to normal levels. Ruona said the Corps would shut the dam's gates again if another heavy rain comes, because preventing flooding is what the lake primarily was designed to do.
Without the dam, major parts of the Wakarusa River valley would have flooded during the last round of storms, Ruona said. According to Corps records, the Wakarusa River suffered major floods 25 times between 1930 and 1980, when the lake officially opened. Since then, major flooding on the Wakarusa is rare.
"The No. 1 reason for Clinton Lake is flood control," Ruona said. "Right now it is doing exactly what it is designed to do, but the public forgets that.
"The public is not used to being inconvenienced by these high-water events because we haven't had many of them lately. But be patient. The lake will come back down."
Being patient is easier said than done for some. Sherri Withers, who works in the main office at Clinton Lake State Park, said the park was "swamped" last weekend with boaters despite several warnings about the high water and debris.
"The weather was nice, and a lot of people had spring fever," Withers said.
Eagle Bend back 9 closed
Boaters aren't the only ones being inconvenienced by high water at Clinton Lake. Golfers are getting a taste as well.
The large releases of water into the Wakarusa River have flooded a portion of the cart paths at the city-owned Eagle Bend Golf Course, which is just below the Clinton Lake dam. The high water has caused Eagle Bend staff to close the course's back nine holes.
Both the Corps and Eagle Bend leaders, though, are optimistic that the back nine will be open this weekend, absent any rain.