New Biggest Worry as Drought Drags On Is Supply of Water

Kansas Viewpoint

As drought continues, state of reservoirs, rivers, streams and wells is cause for grave concern about water supplies

Published on: January 8, 2013



OK, I have a new biggest worry of the day. I’m no longer saying passing a Farm Bill is the most important business ahead. I’m not worrying about the federal deficit. I’m not even worried about Kansas running out of money because nobody is paying taxes.

My new worry – and it is a biggie – is about running out of water.

I’ve been traveling around the state the last couple of weeks, checking out the state of reservoirs, rivers, streams and farm ponds. Not to mention farm household wells. The news is not good.

The drought has been so long-standing in southern Kansas that back-up measures have largely been exhausted. The bailout here is a rainy spring, which of course we could still get. In fact, some of the computer models are now showing a “wet pattern.”

But if you look at the maps of the “wet pattern” it is largely to the east of Kansas and Nebraska. It largely begins in mid-Missouri and moves east.

Usually when Kansans talk about a water crisis the next word is “Ogallala.” But the water crisis Kansas is facing is much bigger than groundwater – it’s all about the reservoirs and surface waters of eastern Kansas.

In a normal year, junior water rights holders along the state’s major eastern rivers pump water into irrigation holding ponds for use later in the season. This year, the river flows are too low to allow for any pumping. Irrigation ponds that have been empty for months will remain empty until those flows reach pumping levels – and that is a long, long way from happening – inches and inches of rain.

More than two-thirds of the population of eastern Kansas – where most Kansas live – depends on reservoirs for their water supply. The problem is those reservoirs are in trouble. Sedimentation has reduced storage capacity. Drought has reduced pool levels. The only thing that fixes the problem is rain, lots of it, before summer gets here.

This doesn’t even get to the issue of recreational use of reservoirs, which is not only something people have come to depend on but which generates significant revenue for the state’s Wildlife and Parks agency, not to mention dozens of rural businesses in towns near reservoirs.

At a majority of the state’s reservoirs – even those considered large such as Cheney and John Redmond – have no usuable boat ramps and campgrounds that are hundreds of feet from water. Cheney supplies drinking water for Wichita and will be able to continue to do it for at least one more season of drought. But it won’t be able to supply that water without difficulty such as algae blooms. And it certainly won’t be able to do it and still provide recreational use of the lake and adjacent state park.

Friday, the governor’s Drought Response Team will meet again in Topeka to assess the water supplies of the state and what can be done to prepare for another year of drought. Kansas Farmer will be there. Watch this space for more news.