Local water supply not threatened right now

Staff reporter

The headlines are alarming: "Tennessee town has run out of water."

The small town of Orme, 40 miles west of Chattanooga, is seeing the worst-case scenario. The water supply is so low, residents are restricted to using water only from 6 to 9 p.m. daily.

Other parts of the country are conserving water. In Georgia, residents are not allowed to wash cars or water lawns.

Could that happen in Marion County?

Earl Lewis of Kansas Water Office, said sure, it could, but it would take a serious, multiple year drought like what was seen in the 1950s.

He compared a serious drought to one in the from 1952 to 1957.

During the 1950s, the Great Plains and southwestern U.S. experienced the five-year drought. In three of those years, drought conditions stretched coast to coast.

The drought was characterized by both low rainfall amounts and excessively high temperatures. Crop yields in some areas dropped by 50 percent. Rainfall in south central Kansas in 1952-57 was 21 inches per year, five inches below the normal rainfall. As a comparison, the average annual rainfall between 2000 and 2006 was 29.44 inches.

Even though the area experienced drought conditions in 2006, Lewis said Marion County is not in a drought right now.

So, what would happen if another five-year drought should occur?

The three cities that draw water from Marion Reservoir — Hillsboro, Marion, and Peabody — are required to have conservation plans.

"There are triggers within each individual plan," Lewis said. Those triggers vary from city to city but could be based on the amount of water in the reservoir and the amount of water supply in the individual towers.

"If we (Kansas Water Office) see a situation where the lake level is dropping, then we will get with the cities and talk about how it can be managed," he said.

The state owns the storage area and the water at the reservoir. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers owns flood storage and the dam, and is responsible for controlling the minimal release area, Lewis said.

The storage area that the state owns is 64 percent of the total storage of the reservoir. The state has a contract for 1.6 million gallons per day for the cities, Lewis said, and the lake can produce 5.5 million gallons per day.

"We have some security right now in knowing that all of the water supply is not committed to users," Lewis said.

When asked to compare Kansas with other states like Tennessee, Lewis said Kansas has a better plan than some other states. The state owns and operates the program and establishes levels of service, he said.

So what about the concern of more demand than supply of water by 2012?

It would take a serious drought within that five-year time frame, similar to the 1950s, for the county to have water quantity concerns.

Lewis emphasized that the supply and demand issue is within the entire Neosho River basin, not just for Marion Reservoir.

"We're working toward not having more demand than supply in 2012," he said.