Unless you burrow deep into the city of Lawrence’s website, you might not know that the state’s drought is beginning to catch up with us here.
The utility department has this statement posted: “Because of recent drought conditions in Eastern Kansas, the Kansas River Water Assurance District No. 1 and the Kansas Water Office have requested the City of Lawrence to implement the water watch stage of our water conservation plan.”
That’s the first stage of the city’s drought contingency plan and it basically means make the public aware of the situation.
It coincides with an announcement last week that the state’s drought task force will begin meeting more frequently to assess the dry conditions afflicting the state. All parts of Kansas are in a “severe” drought condition, and 36 percent, mainly in northwest Kansas, is considered in “exceptional” (the worst) drought condition, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Along the Kansas River basin, outflows from reservoirs continue to exceed inflows. In other words, the reservoirs are not refilling. Water quality storage in Tuttle Creek Reservoir was down to 42 percent at the end of November and has continued to drop throughout December. Milford is at 66 percent, Perry is at 74 percent, and Clinton is down to 73 percent. For comparison, last year at the comparable time, Tuttle Creek was at 100 percent, and Clinton was at 83 percent.
The state reported that nearly 600,000 acre-feet of water have been lost since April in the 13 lakes with state water storage. In the Kansas River basin, since Sept. 4, reservoir storage has been depleted by nearly 73,000 acre-feet. (An acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover an acre with one foot of water. One acre-foot contains 325,851.43 gallons.)
At the beginning of December, the city of Lawrence was using about 7.8 million gallons of water daily. The depletion at reservoirs in the Kansas River basin just in the past four months is enough to have supplied the city for more than eight years!
One measure of the economic impact of the drought is in crop insurance payments: Dale Rodman, Kansas secretary of agriculture, noted that this year – so far – these payments have exceeded $1 billion.
“We’re getting in a tough spot,” Gov. Sam Brownback observed in commenting on a heightened focus for the drought task force. The governor, Rodman and Tracy Streeter, director of the Kansas Water Office who chairs the task force, all emphasized the seriousness of the situation.
Without significant rain or snow during the remaining winter months, Kansas will find itself with even greater problems come spring. Tough spot indeed!