Archive for Monday, August 27, 2012

Diminishing reservoir levels raise nuclear plant and other concerns

August 27, 2012


On a dried-up lake bed, wild sunflowers frame a heron and a family boating on Clinton Lake Monday. The Kansas Water Office has estimated that John Redmond Reservoir, a federal reservoir near Burlington, will be at only 5 percent of its capacity by Nov. 1 if no rain falls in the interim. Lakes near Lawrence are faring better. Both Clinton and Perry lakes are expected to be at about 80 percent of their normal capacity by Nov. 1.

On a dried-up lake bed, wild sunflowers frame a heron and a family boating on Clinton Lake Monday. The Kansas Water Office has estimated that John Redmond Reservoir, a federal reservoir near Burlington, will be at only 5 percent of its capacity by Nov. 1 if no rain falls in the interim. Lakes near Lawrence are faring better. Both Clinton and Perry lakes are expected to be at about 80 percent of their normal capacity by Nov. 1.

Reservoir levels in Kansas

A new report from the Kansas Water Office projects how full several eastern Kansas lakes will be by Nov. 1, given current weather patterns.

• Fall River: 70 percent capacity

• Toronto: 65 percent

• Elk City: 70 percent

• Big Hill: 85 percent

• Milford: 70 percent

• Tuttle Creek: 50 percent

• Clinton Lake: 80 percent

• Perry Lake: 80 percent

• Melvern: 85 percent

• Hillsdale: 75 percent

• Pomona: 75 percent

• Kanopolis: 60 percent

• El Dorado: 80 percent

• Cheney: 60 percent

• Marion: 65 percent

• Council Grove: 60 percent

• John Redmond: 5 percent

Come to find out, it is not just farmers and folks who have dry yards that root for rain. The owners of the Wolf Creek Nuclear Power Plant are rooting hard as well.

A new report from the Kansas Water Office projects a key federal reservoir used in helping cool the nuclear power plant near Burlington will be almost dry by Nov. 1, if current weather patterns persist.

Wolf Creek officials said the dwindling water levels at nearby John Redmond Reservoir pose no safety risk, but they could make it difficult for the plant to operate if the drought continues for many months.

“Just like with about everything at a nuclear plant, we have plans in place to deal with that type of situation,” said Jenny Hageman, a spokeswoman with Wolf Creek.

Officials with the Kansas Water Office estimated John Redmond Reservoir, a 1950s-era federal reservoir just outside of Burlington, was at about 75 percent of its normal capacity as of Aug. 1.

But by Nov. 1, the office projects the 9,400 acre lake will be at only 5 percent of its capacity. In other words, the lake will be 95 percent dry.

Earl Lewis, assistant director for the Kansas Water Office, said the projections are meant to show kind of a “worst-case scenario” for the area.

“These projections really don’t project any rainfall,” Lewis said. “Unfortunately, the long-term weather forecast also is not projecting much rainfall through the fall.”

The new report from the Water Office projects water levels for 17 reservoirs in eastern Kansas. In addition to John Redmond, the report notes Cheney Reservoir, which is used for water supply by the city of Wichita, will drop to about 60 percent of its normal capacity by Nov. 1, and Tuttle Creek outside of Manhattan will be just below 50 percent of its capacity by Nov. 1.

Lakes near Lawrence fare better. Both Clinton and Perry lakes are expected to be at about 80 percent of their normal capacity by Nov. 1.

Lewis said John Redmond was the lake drawing the most concern from the Kansas Water Authority, the state board that oversees a variety of water issues.

The lake plays an important role in providing water to cool the reactor of the state’s only nuclear power plant. The Wolf Creek Power plant uses the 5,000-acre Coffey County Lake to directly cool the power plant.

But Wolf Creek uses water from John Redmond and the Neosho River to keep Coffey County Lake full. Lately, Wolf Creek hasn’t been able to replenish Coffey County Lake at its normal rates.

But Hageman said Coffey County Lake still has plenty of water to maintain normal operations at the plant for the foreseeable future. Thus far, Coffee County Lake is only two feet below its normal levels.

Officials at the Kansas Water Office agree the power plant isn’t facing an immediate shortage of water.

“They have a good supply of water in their cooling lake right now,” Lewis said. “But if the drought goes on for another year, that might be another situation.”

Hageman said Coffey County Lake would have to drop another 11 feet before the water levels were too low for the plant to operate. Even in that scenario, though, Hageman said the plant would still have plenty of water to keep the nuclear reactor cooled in a shutdown mode.

Hageman said Coffey County Lake was built with an area called the “ultimate heat sink.” It is a particularly deep part of the lake that is designed to hold water during the severest of droughts or emergencies.

“There would be sufficient supply there even if you lost the dam and all the water drained out of Coffey County Lake,” Hageman said.

Wolf Creek officials, though, obviously are hoping for rain to refill the lakes this fall and next spring. If the power plant had to shut down for any extended period of time, the three utility companies that own the plant would have to buy power elsewhere to compensate for the losses at Wolf Creek.

Wolf Creek supplies electricity to large parts of eastern Kansas and western Missouri. The plant produces enough electricity to power about 800,000 homes.

Lawrence City Manager David Corliss, who serves on the Kansas Water Authority, said the John Redmond situation is important for more reasons than just Wolf Creek.

“John Redmond is kind of the canary in the coal mine,” Corliss said. “It is the thing that reminds eastern Kansas, which thinks it has a plentiful water supply, that there are issues we need to be paying attention to here.”

Corliss said he hopes the recent drought will cause leaders to have more discussion about the need to dredge area lakes. As lakes fill in with sedimentation, their capacity to store water during droughts is diminished.

“In this part of the state we have been in a more favorable position than others have been, but we don’t want to take that for granted,” Corliss said. “Clinton Lake sedimentation is kind of middle of the road, but it is not an issue we want to forget about.”


Tim Quest 5 years ago

Did this article REALLY begin with "come to find out?" Like, an editor actually let that ill-constructed phrase pass muster? This is what a money-hemorrhaging newspaper is reduced to after laying off all its editors, I guess.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years ago

Chad has a folksy, informal style. As long as the reporting is good, that doesn't bother me at all, and he generally does a good job.

The important thing is that this issue get covered, and not get swept under a rug.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years ago

The heat that gets dumped into these cooling ponds, lakes and streams has detrimental effects on the fish that live there, as well, especially in drought conditions.

Wind generation requires almost no water to operate, BTW.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years ago

I'm all for it. But are you now against it because I'm for it?

hipper_than_hip 5 years ago

The fisherman that I know like to tell stories about the fish they catch when they hang around the outfall. But you are correct: Wind power doesn't require water. But it does require huge footprints to generate significant power, and they are routinely fatal to fowl. This is why, In California, they refer to wind turbine generators ..... as Condor Cuisinarts.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years ago

A couple of facts-- newer designs have reduced this problem considerably, and secondly, there are other technologies out there that are considerably more dangerous to birds than wind generation. Not that you're looking for a comprehensive look at the facts, but rather for facts that are ideologically palatable.

hipper_than_hip 5 years ago

I'd like to stick to the topic of wind farms and their adverse effects on birds and bats. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines document, there is no mention of new designs for wind turbines i.e different blade designs, changing tower heights, etc. The most mentioned best practice they recommend is planning for wind farms that moves them out of migratory bird paths.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years ago

Yes, I'm sure you would. But the fact is that no matter how humans generate all the power we need, it'll have adverse effects on wildlife. That doesn't mean that wind power should just be implemented willy-nilly, with no thought to how to minimize it's impact on wildlife.

But neither does this make nuclear or coal or other dinosaur methods of power generation magically preferable.

average 5 years ago

I have a somewhat hard time getting worked up about the effects of human actions on nearly entirely human-introduced fish stocks in human-created lakes.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years ago

Not all nuclear plants are located on such bodies of water.

And the fish are still fish, no matter how they got there.

jhawkinsf 5 years ago

I've done no research, but how about one turbine per acre (640 acres in one square mile) times 3 = 1920 turbines with 1 per acre. If that's workable, then does the state of Kansas have an extra 3 square miles it could invest for the use of wind turbines? How big is the security perimeter around a typical nuclear power plant?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years ago

Firstable, nuclear power plants tend to have a good deal of down time for maintenance and refueling, and when drought and high temperatures make it difficult to cool them, they have to cut back on power generation, so they don't supply baseload generation at all times. Second, not all wind generators will be located in one single location, and in Kansas, it's never the case that no wind is blowing anywhere at any given moment. Third, what jhawkins said.

jhawkinsf 5 years ago

Wind energy isn't cost effective or practical on a large scale, now. But as Henry Ford showed us a long time ago, start putting that stuff on a big assembly line and costs go down. Give those companies tax breaks (justify that by claiming national security as it lessens dependence on foreign energy), give them more tax breaks (justify that because they will be providing jobs), give them more tax breaks (justify it by saying if we don't build those plants here, we'll be buying those turbines from China), and suddenly it becomes cost effective compared to ... what are you doing with all that spent fuel from Wolf Creek? Putting it in 55 gallon drums with a shelf life of 100 years and then putting it in a cave somewhere? If something goes wrong with that plan, and if humans are involved, something will go wrong, we'll be cleaning up that mess for 100,000 years. Now tell me again, which is cost effective and which is not?

deec 5 years ago

Once water becomes a scarce commodity, I don't think keeping nuclear power plants online will be our biggest consideration. Not dying from thirst will be a touch more critical.

couldabin 5 years ago

Not sure people appreciate how much water a nuclear-powered station circulates. When Wolf Creek is running wide open, it pumps 240 million gallons per day through the plant. On an annualized basis, that's more than all the water pumped in 2010 by Johnson County, Kansas City, Olathe, Topeka, Lawrence, Hutchinson, Manhattan and Salina combined.

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