Water: Not in Kansas Anymore?

October 11, 2022

Climate Change does not cause drought, but when dry spells occur, in a warmer world, soils and plants will dry out faster due to more intense “evaporative demand” – warmer air is thirstier and can hold more moisture, so sucks it up faster.
Right now, large parts of North America are experiencing not only heat, but extended periods of dryness.

Kansas City Star:

Nathan Kells and his family have farmed in southwestern Haskell County, Kansas, since 1885. He runs a full service heifer ranch, growing crops to feed the animals.

The ground is dry. Very dry. Haskell County, a three-hour drive west of Wichita, now faces an “exceptional” drought, which is the highest category of dry. “Wildfires and large dust storms occur” when it’s this dry, the National Weather Service warns.

“It’s very taxing on you, emotionally,” Kells said. “Not to speak of financially. We do what we can.”

The water crisis would be terrible were it just limited to Haskell County. It is not. On Sept. 27, more than half of all of Kansas faced “extreme” or “exceptional” drought, conditions that prompt water restrictions and, on occasion, the need for emergency water supplies.

Kansas is drier on a percentage basis than California, which is in the middle of what some scientists believe is a megadrought, a climate-shifting calamity that may change the region for decades.

Kansas has known about its water problems for many years. It has a water office and a water authority. It just updated the Kansas water plan.

The Kansas House has a water committee. Last year, a bill to increase water oversight in the state failed to get a vote. Western Kansas farmers — Kells among them — would prefer to settle water problems themselves.

“Keep government out of it, and let us deal with the free market, and it will sort itself out,” Kells said.

Yet cracking ground and empty river beds suggest the state must bring more urgency and focus to drought concerns. Water oversight must be among the state’s top priorities in the 2023 session, and in the years to come.

That’s true in western Kansas, where the ancient Ogallala Aquifer continues to decline, threatening farms and homes alike. But it’s also true in our region, despite the current abundance of water from the Kansas and Missouri rivers.

WaterOne, the public utility that serves Johnson County, says it is committed “to protecting our source waters, the Kansas and Missouri Rivers, to ensure safe, delicious tap water in Johnson County for generations to come.”

Yet the district’s website also says the area has “plentiful water sources and customers are free to use what they need.” Climate change, and the potential of a megadrought, may change that calculation.

That could mean more emphasis on so-called “greywater” use in urban areas, where water used for showers and laundry is cleaned and reused for landscaping. It might mean reduced residential irrigation and yards that need less water.

It could mean collecting rain in barrels for flower gardens. It will also mean taking great care of the Kansas and Missouri river basins, which are already stressed by dredging and overuse.

The flood stage for the Kansas River in Kansas City, Kansas, is roughly 32 feet. Recently, the river stood at just 9 feet. While the river always drops in the fall, less water is worrisome.

Nebraska’s Platte River is dry in some places, which is a warning sign. “We all need to do our part to conserve,” Kells said. “Whether that’s a city lawn, or city water, or ag use.”

Let’s state the obvious: The government can’t make it rain. While it can and should make efforts to mitigate climate change, it’s far too late to completely prevent the localized droughts (and downpours and hurricanes) that a changing climate will bring.

The government must accelerate efforts to convince the public of the seriousness of the problem. It must consider use restrictions and aggressive oversight of water administration. It must act as if the water crisis is real.

Everyone will have to approach a hotter, drier region with focus and attention to detail. We may think that California-like rationing and water depletion is far away, and not relevant. Nathan Kells and his fellow farmers would like a word.

They have seen the future, and it is us.

Chris Gloninger, TV Meteorologist in Des Moines Iowa, has also been following the trend.


2 Responses to “Water: Not in Kansas Anymore?”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Much of the great Ogallala Aquifer is being mined out, like California’s Central Valley aquifers.

    From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ogallala_Aquifer#Accelerated_decline_in_aquifer_storage

    Accelerated decline in aquifer storage
    The depletion between 2001 and 2008, inclusive, is about 32% of the cumulative depletion during the entire 20th century. In the United States, the biggest users of water from aquifers include agricultural irrigation and oil and coal extraction.

  2. ubrew12 Says:

    Kansas City Star: “Nathan Kells and his fellow farmers… have seen the future, and it is us.”
    Nathan Kells: “Keep government out of it, and let us deal with the free market, and it will sort itself out”
    With all due respect, I don’t think Kells has seen the past, much less the future. Multiply him by the population of rightwing America, and you have exactly how we got here. Fossil fuel disinformation is a seed, but it was planted in fertile soil, knowing that where America went (and didn’t go), the World would follow.

    Hence, I feel these Westerners, and Midwesterners, are getting what they asked for. Which is not how I feel about flooded out Pakistani’s and others facing a grim climate-changed future.

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