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Holiday blast expected despite lower water

8/24/2012

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Water levels at area lakes are down, there's no doubt about that, but there's still plenty of water out there.

And with the summer that's been encountered, regional parks supervisor Troy Brown is expecting a busy Labor Day weekend at area state parks.

There's been plenty of talk about low lake levels of late, and Brown knows that all too well. But it's something lakes in the western half of the state deal with on a regular basis, and steps have been taken to keep access open to the water, he said.

To be sure, water levels in area lakes have suffered.

Cedar Bluff is perhaps the most dire, at more than 20 feet low. It's missed out on heavy rains over the past several years when other lakes filled, and in some cases, overflowed.

This summer, however, as rains refused to fall and irrigators pulled water from Webster and Kirwin, water levels at both locations have fallen. Webster is now down 11.5 feet, while Kirwin is down slightly more than 6 feet.

At both Webster and Kirwin's case, water still is being released to meet the needs of downstream irrigators, who have rights to water in the lakes.

Brown, regional parks supervisor for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, is expecting a busy holiday week, and not just from campers who are able to pull-up-and-plug-in to utilities.

"I think we're going to draw back the primitive campers that haven't come out because it's been so hot," he said of people who camp with tents.

Primitive campsites were the first victims of the summer's heat because campers weren't able to find any relief during the day or even at night, when temperatures would normally cool down.

He's already noticed some of the tent-campers have returned to state parks, taking advantage of cooler temperatures in recent days.

Brown said the lower water levels have affected visitation to area state parks.

Cedar Bluff has lost visitors to Webster State Park as well as Lake Wilson.

But there's a core group of people, many from Ford and Finney counties, who won't drive the extra distance to camp at either park.

Besides, Brown said, there's still a lot of water available at Cedar Bluff and other lakes.

Only 40 percent full, the lake still holds about 70,000 acre-feet of water -- about 23 billion gallons.

Even when the lake was at its lowest in late 1992, the lake still had about 10 feet of water left in it, and that was nearly 32 feet lower than where it is now.

"You can still get out on the water," he said of conditions at Cedar Bluff.

That history of low water is what keeps the lake going, as boat ramps extend much lower than at many other lakes, essentially following the water level as it goes down.

Brown admits the low water levels affect visitation, but said there's still plenty of people who use the lakes.

"It's a terrible summer for recreation," he said. "Its' a terrible summer for farmers. Everybody needs rain."