The recent rain helped to clean our streets from the dingy mess the late winter had left behind. After the snow and the fun of sledding and making forts and snow creatures, the warmer temperatures and rain were welcome.
That modest amount of precipitation (less than 2 inches so far in 2013 in Lawrence) did not, however, make any meaningful impact on the drought.
The entire state remains in a severe drought condition. Last year at this time, less than a fifth of the state was so afflicted.
Although reservoirs in the Kansas River basin got a recharge of nearly 9,000 acre-feet from the melting snow and the rain that followed, Milford, Perry and Clinton already are receding from the brief peak they enjoyed about a week ago.
Data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shows the reservoirs are down 59,000 acre feet from last September, but the deficit has been reduced from a high of 76,000 acre feet at the beginning of 2013. Although the reservoirs are benefitting, it will take years of normal precipitation to recover from the drought, now in its third year, and predicted to continue throughout the state and the western U.S. for at least another two months.
Experts on climate science, geology, agriculture and water policy addressed a symposium at Kansas University recently and many warned that the long-term outlook is not favorable because the region’s climate is warming, so that even when precipitation returns to normal, it’s likely that greater losses to evaporation and transpiration will impact the state’s limited water resources.
They also called attention to the increasing severity of the cyclical droughts that historically have impacted the region.
They preached the same message that has been carried, unheeded, for years: It’s time to adapt, to change practices so that agriculture and other major water users no longer require so much of the available, but dwindling, supply.
It’s a message that, unfortunately, goes against the economic self-interest of many, and, until there’s something more than words to incite change, until there’s something more than a symposium to bring the message, the course we’re on is likely to be the course we stay on.
Over the long term, this is a more important matter for the state to address than nitpicking university budgets or legislating basketball schedules. Signs along the Kansas Turnpike warn: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Maybe we should pay attention.