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State mobilizing as drought continues

12/21/2012

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

With a forecast calling for more of the same, the state's drought task force soon will start meeting on a regular basis.

That's the word from Tracy Streeter, director of the Kansas Water Office and chairman of the task force. He joined with Gov. Sam Brownback and other agency officials Thursday morning in a conference call to talk about drought conditions facing the state.

The meeting was delayed 90 minutes as a result of blizzard conditions that swept through the state Wednesday night, leaving roads closed in its wake. At least one southwest Kansas resident died as a result of weather conditions, Brownback was told.

"The drought is severe," Brownback said. "This is, in many respects, more severe than the droughts of the '50s and the '30s."

"Conditions are dry, and there's no positive outlook," Streeter said of conditions facing the state.

He cited a litany of lakes in the eastern part of the state that are declining as water flowing into the lakes declines.

That's reduced the amount of water available in state lakes, Streeter said.

Of 13 lakes with state water storage, nearly 600,000 acre-feet of water has been lost since April.

At least 200 water supply systems in the state have entered conservation phases, and at least nine are in emergency situations, restricting or banning outside water uses.

Rivers haven't been running either.

Some of the river stations, with historical data of 30 years or more, show "it's the worst it's ever been," Streeter said.

He specifically pointed to the Smoky Hill River near Ellsworth, with historical records dating back 100 years, again saying "it's the worst it's ever been."

While he detailed many of the conditions throughout the state, Streeter said it's probably most important water suppliers know the condition of their source of water.

"That's probably our main message," he said, "go out and evaluate what you've got."

Kansas Agriculture Secretary Dale Rodman said it's important to plan for a long term drought even though there's hope rain will come soon.

He reported the Division of Water Resources has received approximately 750 multi-year flex account requests, nearly 500 of which are conversions from drought-term permits, a program put in place in 2011 to help irrigators cope with drought.

Water rights are actively being administered in much of the state, and more than 1,200 notices of non-compliance have been sent to holders of water rights. Of those, 180 civil penalties have been issued for overpumping, and three water rights have been suspended for a year. Seven others have been suspended for meter violations.

Rodman bemoaned the lack of a farm bill but said crop insurance has been helping farmers.

So far this year, crop insurance payments have exceeded $1 billion.

"We baled a lot of CRP last year that hasn't been baled in a long time," Rodman said of the federal government's Conservation Reserve Program. "It hasn't come back, so it isn't a source for us."

"We're going to have drought meetings on a regular basis," Brownback said of the upcoming weeks. "We're getting in a tough spot. Meanwhile, pray for rain."