Manhattan The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released of billions of gallons of water from eastern Kansas reservoirs this summer to support dwindling barge traffic on the drought-stricken Missouri River, which has raised the ire of some who say fuller reservoirs are vital to their businesses.
State officials have also questioned the benefit of releasing water from Perry, Tuttle Creek and Milford reservoirs, where tourism brings in hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
About 200 barges have traveled the Missouri River to Kansas City this year, less than a tenth of what once used the channel. By contrast, about 40,000 barges go by St. Louis most years on the Mississippi River, according to The Kansas City Star.
“They have taken down our (lake levels) 3 foot, maybe 6 foot, for what we deem a limited benefit,” said Tracy Streeter, director of the Kansas Water Office. “You would be hard-pressed to even find navigation advocates that could look you straight in the eye and say, ‘Yeah, that’s a good use of water.’”
This year, the Tuttle Creek reservoir is six to seven feet below normal, and boat slips and docks are 15 feet below their normal spots. Milford State Park shut down a number of boat ramps, and a new houseboat dock has been bent from sitting on rocks.
“A lot of guys don’t have anyplace to get their boat on the lake to go fishing,” said Tony Reitz, Milford park manager.
The Army Corps of Engineers said it had no choice but to lower the three lakes in July because the federal agency is required by Congress to keep the Missouri River high enough for the barges to navigate, and the drought had caused levels to drop too far. The corps says the congressional mandate requires the corps to release enough water for commercial barge traffic from April 1 to Dec. 1 — regardless of how many barges are on the river.
“We don’t have the option to decide not to do it one year or other years because of drought,” said Jody Farhat, the Corps’ chief water manager for the Missouri River.
John and Kathy O’Malley, however, feel like their business has been sacrificed to save another. They shut down the Wildcat Marina on Tuttle Creek Lake near Manhattan last week because so much water had been drained.
“I’ve seen Tuttle Creek go up and down,” Kathy O’Malley said, “but I’ve never seen anything like this. We’re worried. We’re really worried.”