River, stream and lake levels are low across Kansas – low enough to cause concern about the upcoming recreational boating and fishing season, water for irrigation and water supplies for cities and towns, especially in the eastern part of the state, where more than two-thirds of the population gets drinking water from reservoirs.
Sedimentation has seriously reduced the holding capacity at John Redmond reservoir which supplies drinking water for a dozen Kansas communities and cooling water for Wolf Creek nuclear power plant. The ongoing drought has further reduced the reservoir, which as of Jan. 5 was at about 40% of conservation pool. All boat ramps and swimming beaches are closed.
At Cheney Reservoir, which supplies drinking water for the city of Wichita, recreational activities were shut down well before the end of the season. Hundreds of feet of dry ground separate boat ramps and campgrounds from open water. Park rangers say Wichita's water supply is safe for at least another season of drought, but recreation – which supplies significant money to the Wildlife and Parks budget from daily use and camping fees – is likely to take a serious hit.
Across the state, most rivers are too low for junior water rights holders to pump water to replenish their irrigation holding ponds and farmers are holding out hope that a wet spring will materialize in time to save the day.
The slideshow presented here shows just a snapshot of the serious issues that will arise in the spring if the weather pattern of "above normal temperatures and below normal rainfall" continues. Watch this space for updates on the water situation and be sure to read your February and March Kansas Farmer for more information on the ongoing crisis.