KHI News Service

Officials warn drought likely to continue into 2013

Governor and agency officials say conservation efforts should begin now

By Phil Cauthon | December 20, 2012

Communities, businesses and individual Kansans should prepare for the drought that has gripped the state for two years to continue at least into midsummer, officials said at a meeting today with Gov. Sam Brownback.

Although an overnight snowstorm dropped up to 15 inches in some counties, Kansas Water Office Director Tracy Streeter said the precipitation was "insignificant in the grand scheme of things."

"We have some historic low stream measurements in Kansas, and that's a big statement when you think about our history of drought going back to the '30s and into the '50s," Streeter said. "It's worse now than it's ever been."

"Conditions are dry and there's no real positive outlook in the future," said Streeter, who recently attended a national drought forum in Washington, D.C., where Brownback delivered a keynote address. "We're preparing for 2013 to be very dry."

Brownback said conservation improvements in the last century have helped mitigate the impact of the current drought, but further efforts are needed.

"Thankfully we have our federal reservoirs and different farming practices so things haven't appeared as bad. But the conditions have actually been even more severe," Brownback said. "This is a tough situation ... and we need to be as prepared as we possibly can."

Streeter said all of the 24 federal reservoirs in the state are below normal capacity and declining. Six — John Redmond, Tuttle Creek, Toronto, Fall River, Cheney and Kanopolis — are critically low, at less than two-thirds their capacity.

Streeter said that public water suppliers should put in place now conservation plans for 2013.

"Public water supply systems, we think overall, have a pretty good handle on their source as far as the quantity of water in their well or quantity of water in their reservoir. But we want to encourage all public water suppliers to go do an assessment immediately of their well levels or reservoirs," Streeter said.

"Conservation plans (should be) adequate and in place so that they're ready to implement more stringent conservation measures as we move into the year," he said. Streeter said they should also adjust block-rate structures to encourage conservation by customers who use large quantities of water.

Individual Kansans also should take steps to use only the water they need, he said.

"All of us should take advantage of every opportunity to conserve water," Streeter said. "Things such as brushing our teeth or taking a shower we can do on a personal level to reduce our per capita usage per day until we get through this drought."

Kansas Adjutant General Lee Tafanelli said Kansans should keep plenty of water in a household emergency kit.

"It is recommended that every individual have at least one gallon per day per family member for up to three days," Tafanelli said.

Agriculture Secretary Dale Rodman said that one feed yard ran out of water in 2012. He said operators would have to institute significant changes to avoid more widespread shortages in 2013.

"Many of our businesses are upside-down because of feed costs, and the drought is affecting that all the way through the system. I don't want to be sounding negative — I think working together we can make a lot of changes. But we really have to think long-term, and we have to plan that this is a long-term drought. And if it isn't, we're going to be much better off," he said.

That planning, Rodman said, means that farmers and others might have to set aside their perennial optimism and assume that conditions will get worse.

“We always think it’s going to rain in the spring,” he said. “As you’ve heard, we’ve got to get out of that (way of thinking) and start planning.”

The KHI News Service is an editorially independent initiative of the Kansas Health Institute. It is supported in part by a variety of underwriters. The News Service is committed to timely, objective and in-depth coverage of health issues and the policy-making environment. All News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution, including a link back to when a story is reposted online. An automatically updated feed of headlines and more from KHI can be included on your website using the KHI widget. More about the News Service at or contact us at (785) 233-5443.