Archive for Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Governor declares drought warning for Douglas County

May 21, 2014


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


Cait McKnelly 4 years, 1 month ago

I just got back today from going up to Kansas for a few days to see family and spent Monday and Tuesday in Lawrence. My daughter and I drove over the bridge into North Lawrence on the way to the turnpike Tuesday and the sight of the river floored me. Down here, on the way into Fort Smith, the Arkansas River is almost out of it's banks.
How much of this is due to the Ogalala Acquifier drying up? Does anybody know?

Ken Lassman 4 years, 1 month ago

While technically speaking, the Kaw watershed covers the northern half of western Kansas into eastern Colorado around Limon, and up into Nebraska, all of which contain the Ogallalah Aquifer, most of the water running under the bridge at Lawrence has always come from the eastern half of the watershed. The Ogallalah is mostly an underground aquifer that used to provide some water to the tributaries through seeps, but even then, it contributed very little to the total volume of the Kaw by the time it reached Lawrence.

Chris Golledge 4 years, 1 month ago

Almost nothing. The Ogallala is primarily fossil water stored a very long time ago and then cut off from the supply. It interacts with precipitation and surface water very, very little.

Leslie Swearingen 4 years, 1 month ago

Nice to hear from you Cait, it has been a while since you commented on here and you were always one of the best. Kansas alone pumped 1.3 trillion gallons in 2011, more than enough to fill Lake Okeechobee, the huge lake in Florida. So, I would say yes, we are in trouble but we do need to use that much water so I don't have an answer.

Read more here:

Ralph Reed 4 years, 1 month ago

I find it really interesting the crop and cattle farmers get relief in the event of a disaster such as a drought, yet dairy farmers do not.

Why is that?

Chris Golledge 4 years, 1 month ago

Are you sure they are not? I did a quick look, and I did not see anything specific about diary in the Livestock Forage Disaster Program. It was all about forage and feed, and diary cows forage and feed the same as other livestock.

Brock Masters 4 years, 1 month ago

I was not aware the wildlife and parks issued water permits. I thought the dept of ag did?

Carol Bowen 4 years, 1 month ago

If we had a flood, we would get assistance from FEMA to rebuild our homes. If our house foundations severely break up because of the drought, there is no assistance. All assistance is for agriculture.

P.S. Dairy farmers should get relief from drought. Since this is a campaign year, we should be asking the candidates about this, especially the incumbents. First question: Can the inclusion of dairy farms be changed at the state level?

Julius Nolan 4 years, 1 month ago

Amazing, brownie didn't blame Obama for the drought.

Brock Masters 4 years, 1 month ago

Why not ban lawn watering and other non-essential uses of water now ?

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