Purchase photos

Water release provided breathing room on wells

12/26/2013

A look at some of the top stories from northwest Kansas in 2013.

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

When the horn sounded to signal the start of water flowing downstream from Cedar Bluff Reservoir, there were few people smiling.

Staunch supporters of Cedar Bluff didn't want the water to cascade downstream, and Hays -- and later Russell -- officials didn't enjoy the task of asking for the water to be released.

The releases, however, have proven to be the saving grace for Hays wells along the Smoky Hill River near Schoenchen.

The level of water in an observation well east of Schoenchen remains in the upper realm of the good category, well above what it was in March when the city of Hays asked for the release of water from the artificial recharge pool of water in Cedar Bluff.

Russell followed up just days later and decided to ride the wave of water rushing downstream toward Schoenchen and ask for the release of water it owns in Cedar Bluff.

In both instances, water releases were at sharply higher levels than in past years, sending water cascading downstream in virtually record time.

The water recharged wells in both the Hays and Russell wellfields, although Russell had the good fortune of gaining additional water when heavy rains fell in late summer along tributaries feeding into the Smoky.

Those tributaries, however, were east of Schoenchen and the Hays wells. Today, the Smoky at Schoenchen remains dry, a tell-tale sign of the declining water table.

But pumping was able to continue in the wake of the Cedar Bluff release, and water levels remain nearly a foot above what they were in March when the release started. The release sent levels as much as 4.5 feet higher.

All that, of course, came at a heavy price for Cedar Bluff.

Hundreds of millions of gallons of water were released from Cedar Bluff, and the lake currently is approximately 25 feet low.

While the water recharged wells along the Smoky for Hays, there's been little improvement in wells along Big Creek.

The Big Creek wells still are considered to be in "good" shape, thanks to a recent uptick in water levels.