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Drought continues to take toll on Kansas reservoirs

Published on January 7, 2013 3:01AM

Last changed on January 7, 2013 11:11AM

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) -- Kansas officials will begin their annual well survey this month to get an idea about how much damage has been caused underground by the continuing drought, while above the surface, the signs of a shrinking water system are hard to miss.

In some state reservoirs, boats are marooned in their slips and ramps are no longer reachable along receding shorelines. Water that used to flow freely in some rivers has been reduced to mere trickles.

Nearly everything in the state -- the winter wheat crop, farm ponds, natural wetlands and even Cheney Reservoir -- is starved for water, The Hutchinson News reported (http://bit.ly/RyJHIn), and every lake in the state is suffering.

"Most of the reservoirs are down," said Kanopolis State Park Manager Rick Martin. "And we aren't built like a bathtub. When you are down a few feet like we are, it really shows up on the shoreline."

The Kanopolis reservoir is 6 feet below conservation pool, so low that none of the lake's boat ramps is usable. With the drought expected to persist through March, Martin isn't optimistic conditions will change this winter or spring.

"Not unless something bizarre happens and Mother Nature sees fit to shine upon us," he said.

At Cheyenne Bottoms near Great Bend in central Kansas, the marshes went dry in July. Manager Karl Grover said the area is typically a wildlife haven for birds and hunters this time of year, but rain in November created only a few puddles that drew in some geese and hunters, and it lasted only a week or two.

Grover said the last time the area was completely dry was in 1991.

"We had some years where we were short on water and hunter numbers were down, but not like this," he said, adding that other wildlife areas "are dry or hurting bad."

At McPherson Valley Wetlands, enough water to create two pools covering about 20 acres has been pumped from groundwater wells, but even that isn't enough to attract waterfowl. Only 169 ducks were shot by hunters there in 2012, compared with 3,500 in a normal year.

Wetlands manager Brent Theede said the drought hasn't necessarily been a bad thing, though, because it allows crews to do work in areas normally filled with water.

At Cheney Reservoir, which provides about 60 percent of the water for the city of Wichita, attendance is dwindling and could get worse if the drought continues another year. Last year, the lake had 35 percent fewer visitors than the normal 550,000, Cheney State Park manager Ryan Stucky said.

With the reservoir less than 60 percent of its normal water capacity, most of Cheney's boat ramps are surrounded by land, and at one location a speedboat is stranded in one of the slips.

Stucky said the demand for water in Wichita has contributed to the lake's record decline, but a few big rains could help solve the problem quickly.

"We're not dropping as fast as we were in the summertime," Stucky said. "People aren't irrigating their yards and water consumption is way less. Hopefully, we just get some rain."


Information from: The Hutchinson (Kan.) News, http://www.hutchnews.com

Copyright 2013 The AP.


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