Sedimentation by the numbers
Here’s how Lawrence area lakes compare to John Redmond in capacity loss, based on the most recent surveys for each body of water.
Original capacity (1977): 129,171 acre-feet
2009 capacity: 118,699 acre-feet
Estimated current capacity: 118,026 acre-feet
Loss of capacity to date: 8.6 percent
Original capacity (1960): 243,220 acre-feet
2009 capacity: 200,004 acre-feet
Estimated current capacity: 197,843 acre-feet
Loss of capacity to date: 18.7 percent
John Redmond Lake
Original capacity (1963): 82,230 acre-feet
2007 capacity: 50,040 acre-feet
Estimated current capacity: 47,068 acre-feet
Loss of capacity to date: 42.8 percent
Source: Kansas Water Office, kwo.org
Two-thirds of Kansans rely on water from the state’s federal reservoirs, for everything from drinking and bathing to irrigation and power, the Kansas Water Office estimates.
And as decades worth of sediment flows into them, those reservoirs are shrinking — some drastically.
Reservoir sustainability, including dredging and streambank stabilization efforts, is expected to be a key focus of a new long-term water policy plan ordered by Gov. Sam Brownback.
Lawrence City Manager David Corliss, a Kansas Water Authority member who also serves on the state’s Reservoir Advisory Committee, said there’s a sense of urgency when it comes to conserving the Ogallala Aquifer of western Kansas — another priority for Brownback’s plan. Corliss said reservoirs don’t seem to incite the same urgency, yet solutions are needed for their long-term issues.
“What we hope is that a plan can be developed, and more importantly a plan can be funded, so that Kansas communities that depend on reservoirs for their water supply will have the assurance that that water supply will be available for decades to come,” Corliss said.
Two weeks ago, Brownback announced his directive for five state agencies and a council of economic advisers to begin work on what he’s calling a “50-year vision” for water policy in Kansas.
The Water Office and its planning counterpart, the Water Authority, are to work on the plan with the state departments of Agriculture, Health and Environment, and Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. Brownback asked the groups to deliver a blueprint by Nov. 1, 2014.
The governor’s announcement came at the beginning of a two-day conference in Manhattan on water issues. He said the persistent drought in the western half of the state shows the importance of water to the Kansas economy.
Droughts are nothing new to the Midwest, and they’re not going away. But Susan Metzger, chief of planning and policy for the Water Office, said episodes like the drought of recent years push water sustainability into the limelight.
“I think it puts some pressure on the long-term vision,” she said. “It certainly makes the public more aware of the value of our water resources.”
Dredging and prevention
Metzger said the governor wants the plan to be broken down into 20-year goals and manageable 5-year actions.
She said proposed dredging of John Redmond Lake in Coffey County was one example of an action that’s already under way. Since 1963, the lake has lost more than 40 percent of its capacity to sediment buildup, according to Water Office surveys.
The project marks the first time a non-federal sponsor has pursued dredging a federal facility, Metzger said. She said the process could be applied to other Kansas lakes in the future.
Could that include dredging at Clinton and Perry lakes?
Possibly, Corliss said.
Ideally, though, any long-term plan would call for less expensive preventative measures to be applied first, he said.
And for now, Clinton and Perry don’t face anywhere near the same capacity loss as John Redmond. Clinton has lost 8.6 percent of its capacity since 1977 and Perry has lost 18.7 percent since 1960, according to Water Office estimates.
At Clinton and Perry lakes, streambank restoration and similar efforts to reduce inflow of sediment are already taking place.
Corliss said it’s too soon to tell whether those measures alone will be enough to prevent the need for dredging in the long-term.
“It is very expensive,” Corliss said. “And I think that’s why you want to look at doing things upstream before you do things downstream.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this story.