Archive for Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Editorial: Water issue

November 7, 2012


On Sunday, while most Lawrence residents were focused on resetting their clocks, another, more important, reset was taking place on the Kansas River without any of the notice given to the end of daylight saving time.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began increasing the flow on the river to fill the “mill pond” created to drive turbines at the new Bowersock Mills power plant in Lawrence. More than 900 million gallons of water ultimately will be released from the river system’s already drought-depleted reservoirs so that “green” energy can be sold to Kansas City, Kan.’s Board of Public Utilities to benefit the Bowersock operation.

The release of water for Bowersock comes at a time when inflows into reservoirs in the Kansas-Lower Republican basin already were lagging outflows. It also comes when all of Kansas is considered to be in at least extreme drought conditions and nearly 40 percent of the state is considered to be in “exceptional” (the most severe category) drought condition.

Bowersock, incidentally, has the oldest water right on the Kansas River, and also the largest: 1 million acre feet of water. Just a single acre foot of water equals 325,851.429 gallons of water. But as Kermit the Frog famously said, “It ain’t easy being green.”

Almost no one would quarrel with the need for green energy, and it understandably comes with a cost. Most people in Lawrence probably take pride in having that new “green” generating facility on the river after long months of construction. But is the cost in water supplies of releasing 900 million gallons of water during drought conditions reasonable? Is it reasonable that 1.5 million people who depend on water supplies are put at some risk during the second or third year of a drought to generate small amounts of electricity that — if truly needed — could be generated easily by coal-fired or nuclear plants?

There is at least anecdotal evidence in the diaries and journals of early travelers and settlers that the Kansas River has run dry on two occasions. It could happen again, and when the storage is gone not only will there be no water to drink, there will be none to produce electricity for Bowersock.

What’s taking place on the Kansas River almost in secret should be a widely discussed and extraordinarily public matter. The governor and the Legislature should be monitoring closely what is taking place; they should be explaining to the public the decisions and actions of the Corps and the Kansas Water Office. If the situation requires changes in the state’s water laws, then the state should be prepared to make them.

It’s also incumbent upon Bowersock representatives to exercise considerable restraint and not put their profits ahead of the public good.

Again, the state’s drought conditions impose new, and highly public, responsibilities on everyone involved.


Ken Lassman 4 years ago

Yes, of course this is worth looking at more closely. So just how much water does the Kaw have flowing down it? The average streamflow from 1974 to 1992 can be found here:

Looks like the mean annual streamflow ranged from 90-500 cubic meters/second. Since there are 86,400 seconds in a day, that's 7.776 to 43.2 million cubic meters/day, right? Next, go to the cubic meter-to-gallons converter found here:,776,000

and it looks like the Kaw has something between 2 and 11 BILLION gallons flowing down it on any given day. Sounds to me like the release of 900 million gallons for Bowersock is not that big of a deal compared to the amount of water that comes down the Kaw most of the time.

Sounds like this whole problem is a tempest in a teapot. Or should I say drop of water in a bucket? Certainly it's worth looking at protocols if things get worse and worse, but mostly this is a non-problem.

Getaroom 4 years ago

+1. Another knee jerk reaction from The LJW.

Ken Lassman 4 years ago

You think keeping enough water in the Kaw to run Bowersock will empty all of the upstream reservoirs? Give me a break. Do the math.

dinoman 4 years ago

ok may be a little slow this morning. but... to all of us out there your "average" includes several floods correct ... if we are going to set standards lets be real... we are in a drought...I cant tell the future.. but I do practice the idea of be prepaired for the worse so if its better then it is great.. Im not a fatilist or anything... but at what point should we begin to become a little worried...when the water is low.. mmmmm when we are put on restrictions of wattering our lawn...mmmm maybe we should be a little worried because we are currently sitting at about half the total water for normal recieved this year and we only have a month and a half left...mmmm worried yet... well lets see.. just when was the last "flood " that could have bulit up the below ground water table... mmmm certinatly not in the last five to ten years....maybe not even the last fifteen years.. and I dont mean just a wet spring but an entire wet trend.. Face the facts.. I believe im hearing the same thing as was portrayed before the dust bowl of the thirtys... oh just a little dry spellll yea rt..... have you been to clinton , lake perry, lone star lakes recienly... most of all those water resources are more than twenty to thirty feet down at the least... wake up dont wait till the bucket is empty to worry about filling it up... we should be acting not reacting.... I like the ability of turning on the tap and getting a drink.... just think not to far in the future you may have to boil that water because it is getting so low do you want to discuss it then...

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years ago

Unlike other water users along the river, Bowersock doesn't remove any water from the Kaw-- the water merely passes through its generators on the way down the river to other users.

If the drought continues or even worsens, there may be good reasons to store water behind the dams upstream rather than releasing it so it can be stored behind the dam here in Lawrence. But the fact is, if the drought continues, there won't be any water available to store anywhere, so the concern expressed in this editorial is pretty silly.

50YearResident 4 years ago

So you are OK with using our stored water above the Lawrence Dam to "flow through" the power plant to generate a smal amount of Green Electricity? You said it yourself, it only passes through the power plant to other users downstream. The water is not "stored" at the Lawrence dam.

Ken Lassman 4 years ago

Isn't that same pool where almost half of the Lawrence water supply is pulled out of the river, cleaned up and given to us to drink? Seems to me that it's a little disingenuous to blame Bowersock for the need to have a pool of water there to generate electricity without also acknowledging that a lot of the Lawrence community needs that pool at a certain level to be able to draw water out to clean up and drink.

carp 4 years ago

Bowersock dam and the upstream pool have been down for over a year, but the water plant has had no issue getting water into the plant(including max flow). The need for pool management by Bowsock is a disproven myth.

Ken Lassman 4 years ago

There are two water sources for the city: the Kaw and the water treatment plant that pulls from Clinton. I suspect that Clinton has been putting in overtime the past year; I don't think that they want to abandon the Kaw plant at all and will be very happy to have the Kaw back in operation, which requires a steady pool level.

carp 4 years ago

The Kaw plant ran fine all summer,even with the boards down and no water going over the dam. No doubt the Kaw plant needs to keep running, but Bowersock holding a pool is not needed to meet plant demands.

My guess is that WaterOne could have issues at their intake if Bowersock holds back to much water to fill the pool. The Corp. is maintianing downstream flow and still allowing for the pool to fill by increasing their releases. WaterOne is part of the assurance district and probably asked for river levels to be maintained.

Ken Lassman 4 years ago

The Kaw intake runs more efficiently and requires less energy to pump the water to the treatment plant when the level is higher. That's why the city paid for a share of the rubber dam, because the Kaw intake will benefit from a higher pool. Here's what the Bowersock web page said about all of this when they had the flashboard dam:

"Optimum operation of the Kaw Plant takes place when the water is at flashboard height of 812’ MSL. The Kaw intakes are operable at dam top height of 808’ MSL, but it is less efficient and requires additional energy. Below 808’ MSL, operations are significantly impacted."

50YearResident 4 years ago

River water flow logic as I see it. Reservoirs along the Kaw have been in place more than 20 years. Once they reach normal capacity, they are not in any way restricting the normal flow of the Kaw river. As long as inflow is less than enough to maintain normal capacity of the reservoir there would not be any excess to flow into the river. So, if they are not restricting river water flow, they should not be required to release water that would not be flowing into the river anyway. River water "rights" should not inclued reservoir water contained from earlier rains. If the river is not flowing enough to generate electricity then, tough luck. The power plant should not expect the state to make up the difference because Mother Nature is not supplying enough water for the plant to be opperational. Maybe a rain dance is more in order. That's my opinion!

Ken Lassman 4 years ago

Once again, the amount of water (see calculations above) is a very minute amount of water indeed compared to the amount of water that flows down the Kaw almost all of the time. The reservoirs hold enough water that unlike what the editorial says, the river probably won't ever run dry again. Keeping enough water in the Kaw to run Bowersock is such a small fraction of the total reservoir capacity, I seriously doubt that it would ever be responsible for running the reservoirs dry. More likely would be the pressure from the Army Corps of Engineers for the Kansas Reservoirs to release enough water to keep traffic on the Mississippi River going, in event of the drought. Of course, water released for that purpose could also be used to power Bowersock.

Sheryl Wiggins 4 years ago

did you perhaps mean "your whole point is moot anyway by the fact that is cited here"?

Wayne Propst 4 years ago

NO MORE WATER FOR THE GOFF COURSES...900,000 gallons is nothing..... wake up ......the "water right is for 325,851,429,000,000 gallons...........0000003 literally is less than a DROP in the bucket......what is the REAL agenda of this "editorial" ?

James Cooley 4 years ago

Let's not use any for golf courses either. Actually the water is still there, it's just being stored a little further downstream where it benefits Lawrence residents by raising the river level at the water plant intakes, the reason Lawrence residents pay for the maintenance of the Bowersock dam.

Liberty275 4 years ago

The people in NYC are lined up to get gasoline. Maybe they should rework their car to run off of wind, hydro, solar and fairy tales.

When the proverbial crap hits the fan, Fossil fuels make up for the failures of green energy.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years ago

Human societies depend on systems. Currently, those systems are largely fossil-fueled. That has taken centuries to develop. It won't change overnight, but that's hardly a good argument for not changing it as our current dependence on fossil fuels will surely kill us off by the millions, if not the billions (by causing/exacerbating things like hurricanes.)

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