Low water levels in Kansas rivers partly due to drought

? Water levels on some Kansas rivers are approaching record lows amid a drought and heat wave.

The Hutchinson News reported that water in the Arkansas River is stagnant from limited flow.

U.S. Geological Survey officials said this will be the river’s lowest June flow in 53 years of record keeping. On Friday, the flow was down to about 27 cubic feet per second, far below the typical flow of 475 cubic feet per second.

“It’s sad to think of what it used to be,” said Paul Long, recalling that his childhood days in the 1930s included noodling for catfish in the Arkansas River that swelled by his family’s Rice County farm.

And the Arkansas River isn’t alone. Several other rivers were flowing at their weakest since the USGS started collecting data.

The primary reason is the severe drought that has gripped the region for the past two years, coupled with increased human consumption from irrigators and others who have drawn down river levels over several decades, said Brian Loving, a hydrologist with the USGS’s Lawrence office.

Moreover, without rainfall, farmers rely on irrigation even more to sustain their crops, which further draws down river and aquifer levels.

Rattlesnake Creek, which flows into Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, was at 1.2 cubic feet per second Friday, compared to the median flow of 28 cubic feet per second. The month ended Sunday, and Loving said it would be the lowest June flow ever in 38 years of data collection.

Cow Creek at Lyons was measuring .95 cubic feet per second Friday — well below the normal 26 cubic feet per second for this time of year.

“It has never been this low before in June,” Loving said. “Normally it has 25 times more water. But it is slowly drying up.”

In response, state officials already are curtailing junior irrigation rights in some areas.

Reservoirs also are hurting. The U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation says Cedar Bluff is only 43 percent full.

While Cheney is just three feet below normal conservation pool, Loving said levels continue to drop drastically. The reservoir lost about 6 million gallons of water in the past week due to evaporation and has dropped more than a foot in just one month.

Meanwhile, Loving said the North Fork of the Ninnescah River also is running lower than average — low enough that the creek temperature Tuesday measured 103 degrees.

“I didn’t think that was right,” Loving said, noting he called and asked employees to check on the gauge. “But they said they calibrated the instrument on Monday, and then it was reading in the high 90s.