Joyce Williams is glad somebody notices the drought is still impacting residents of this part of the state.
She and her husband, Mel, raise grass-fed beef north of Lawrence. Their farm ponds haven't recovered from the severe drought of 2012, and they can only get water from two or three of the roughly dozen ponds on their property.
"I don't even talk about the drought anymore. People really don't believe me, especially in town," Williams said. "It's an extreme problem for us. We are praying hard for rain over this holiday weekend."
Someone who has realized the problems from the continued drought is Gov. Sam Brownback, who Wednesday declared much of the state to be in a drought emergency. Under the declaration, individuals and communities will need to contact the Kansas Water office before withdrawing water from lakes. They will be referred to the Kansas Department of Wildlife for a permit to withdraw the water.
A drought warning was declared for Douglas County. Of the bordering counties, only Osage is also in a drought warning, while the rest (Shawnee, Jefferson, Leavenworth, Johnson and Franklin) are in a drought watch.
Still, there are concerns locally. For instance, Clinton Lake, one of the two sources for the city of Lawrence's water, is 4 feet lower than normal. "Even though Lawrence and Douglas County are in a pretty wet part of the state compared to western Kansas, people need to be mindful of the fact that the drought continues and be conscious of their own water use," said Earl Lewis, assistant director of the Kansas Water Office. "Our water supply isn't nearly as robust as we hoped it would be."
Laura Calwell, riverkeeper for Friends of the Kaw, said the Kansas River, which Kansans rely on for water and energy, is also lower than normal for this time of year. "I don't think Kansas has fully recovered from the drought of two years ago," she said. "We did have some rain last year, so it's not as dire as it was two years ago, but hopefully we'll get some rain this year."
While area livestock producers continue to have deficits in their farm ponds, corn and soybean farmers might start worrying if this summer remains dry.
"We need above normal rainfall to make up for the past two years," said Bill Wood, director of K-State Research and Extension in Douglas County. "We've kind of been on the borderline of the drought, but it has affected our yields."
Debbie Yarnell, who raises grass-fed cattle and lamb in Baldwin City, said that while she relies on well water rather than ponds she did have to reduce the number of livestock in her operation in 2012 after the drought dried up their forage. "If it continues being the same weather pattern that we've been having where the rain hits eastern Kansas and sort of dissipates … we are certainly going to end up like it was in 2012," she said.
State climatologist Mary Knapp said it's a little too early to tell what kind of rainfall and temperatures this part of the state will get this summer. She said that while the Climate Prediction Center is forecasting both a wetter-than-normal and hotter-than-normal June for most of the state, those two usually don't go hand in hand.
So she said the three likely outcomes are that June will either be wetter than usual with normal temperatures, hotter than usual without a lot of moisture, or wetter and hotter but with the rain coming in spurts, which can stress crops.
"When you look at that, two of those three possibilities are not favorable for us," she said.
— Reporter Ben Unglesbee contributed to this report