Editorial: Drought woes

The reservoirs that supply water to many Kansas cities already are depleted and continued drought will only make the situation worse.

December 31, 2012


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!


William McCauley 5 years, 4 months ago

Gee maybe they should dump a bunch more out so the Hills will have water for their new toy.

Water 5 years, 4 months ago

A very worthwhile editorial LJW. Should have been on the front page above the fold.

Water 5 years, 4 months ago

Ha ha ha! Yep, I am and you should be too.

littlexav 5 years, 4 months ago

Your technology isn't clean - sure, it can burn anything - whether renewable or not - but "smoke recirculation" doesn't make it a clean solution. Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) is a practice that can reduce NOx emissions, but you do nothing for SOx, PMx, toxic metals, or CO2.

George_Braziller 5 years, 4 months ago

Duh Sam. After two years of drought you just now noticed?

“We’re getting in a tough spot,” Gov. Sam Brownback observed in commenting on a heightened focus for the drought task force.

kernal 5 years, 4 months ago

Alerting the public that the problem exists is not enough if the public doesn't know how to conserve.

capshroud 5 years, 4 months ago

One of the reasons the Kansas river reservoirs are so low is the drain down by the corps in September when the Missouri barge operators asked for water to help move maybe 2 or 3 barges. Perry was lowered 6 feet and Tuttle and Milford had equal or greater wastes of water in the midst of on of the worse droughts on record.

The barge operators water rights aren't as senior as the Bowersock's, but they trump the state's wishes our common sense. This is part of the operational manual the corps follows without question or apparently considering greater needs. Now we're wondering if cities will have drinking water.

riverdrifter 5 years, 4 months ago

Ah, finally, a salient point on this topic. Thank you.

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