By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

KIRWIN -- For years now, Craig Mowry has quietly struggled to make the Kirwin National Wildlife Refuge attractive to migratory waterfowl even with low water levels in the reservoir.

While the lake benefitted from rains last fall, heavy rain over the past two weeks sent water levels in the lake sharply higher, well into flood stage.

As a result, Mowry is now struggling with too much water, washing out roads, warning signs and making boat docks inaccessible from shore.

The real damage, perhaps, will come when the water finally recedes and damage to native grasses become known, and unwanted weeds -- Canada thistle for example -- spoil the area.

"We're doing triage," Mowry said of what he and his staff are doing. "Checking things out, making sure the public stays safe while they're driving around."

That means putting up barricades on roads that now are under water. Or, checking spots where signs warning of water-ahead have been washed away, into the water itself.

The same situation is being played out over at Webster Reservoir, which filled up before Kirwin, and then was struck by the same heavy rainfall.

At Webster, water is just a few feet away from the south-shore drive, sometimes on both sides of the road.

Just a few miles west of Kansas Highway 258, however, a road-closed sign sits in the middle of the county road. Just west of there a few hundred yards, the water and floating timber lazily covers the road.

Water levels in Kirwin, Mowry said, have been slowly going down, the result of evaporation from the high temperatures and small amounts of water being released into the river below the dam.

Water is being released at both lakes, but water continues to flow in as well.

At Kirwin, Mowry said wave-breaks are under water, and boat ramps are unusable. A dock at the boat ramp is under siege.

"We don't have any scuba gear to go in there and unbolt that," Mowry said of the ramp.

Some problems won't be fixed anytime soon, he said, noting that they are facing the same problems that the Phillips County road department is facing.

On the south side of the lake, for example, a culvert 4- to 5-feet in diameter has washed out below a draw known as Hungry Hollow.

"That whole culvert is gone," he said, "washing somewhere down the creek."

Where is a bit uncertain at this point.

"It's downstream somewhere. Downstream is in the reservoir."

Water levels will have to recede even more before they can have any hope of recovering the culvert to fix the road.

Once the waters do go down, Mowry said the task will fall to undoing the problems from the flood.

"Right now, we've got a few acres under water," he said. "Probably somewhere around a thousand acres are flooded out.

"This isn't going to be a quick fix at all."

And it's debatable if he'll get any extra money to make the repairs, unless he starts making requests now so they can work through the federal budget system.

His greatest concern falls to what might be left behind in the wake of the floodwaters, and what it will do to the native grasses that exist on the reservoir.

Some of those grasses might have to be reseeded.

He's also worried about fighting invasive species, such as Canada thistle.

"Once you deal with Canada thistle, musk thistle is a piece of cake," he said.

Both are a scourge for pastures because they spread fast.

With Canada thistle, he said, the only way to deal with it is with herbicides, and they've done just that with hand sprayer, aerial sprayers and "we've even gotten a helicopter in the past couple years."

"We had been doing a good job controlling it," Mowry said. "We don't have hardly any."