After years of drought, several Kansas reservoirs are using recent rain to build up water stockpiles for communities.
Five Kansas reservoirs have been given the OK by the Tulsa District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the Kansas Water Office to keep water above the recommended amount for the conservation pool.
"We think we came out of two and a half years of drought and so we've been talking about this for the last six to eight months," said El Dorado Director of Public Utilities Kurt Bookout. "It takes a while to get the Corps of Engineers to change their policy and actually raise the conservation pool."
Recent rains pushed water levels at El Dorado lake above the 100% normal capacity. Now, the reservoir will get to keep six inches more of that water in their conservation pool.
"It doesn't sound like a lot, six inches of water, but El Dorado Lake covers more than 8,000 acres," said Bookout. "For large water suppliers, it's a billion gallons for our customers. That's one-third of what we use in a year. We actually only use 18 inches of water out of El Dorado Lake."
Elk City, Fall River and Toronto reservoirs will be allowed to keep an extra foot of water. While John Redmond Reservoir will get to keep two feet because of ongoing drought concerns and the water supply needs of the Wolf Creek Nuclear Power facility.
"I think most people think we're out of a drought, but if you look at droughts historically, the drought of the 50's was actually interspersed," said Bookout. "You had dry years, then you might have a wet period of 6 months, 8 months or a year and then you're right back in the drought again.
Bookout said the Corps of Engineers will then revisit the issue in September.
"If September it appears that it's dry and we're still below average in precipitation, I think we'll continue it," said Bookout. "This holding an extra six inches or foot of water in reservoirs, it's all a drought contingency plan. So if we get into a period of wet weather that continues, we can reassess at that time."
He said people living downstream from the reservoirs shouldn't notice any change. The only downfall to the change, Bookout said, is if the area gets flooding rains.
"The only reason the Corps wouldn't want to hold extra water, is everything above conservation pool is flood storage and so it gives them six inches less of flood storage to hold," he said. "If we continue to get rain, they're probably going to , if they have the opportunity, drop all the reservoirs back down to conservation pool."
Joe Pajor, Wichita's Deputy Director of Public Works & Utilities, said Cheney Reservoir was also allowed to raise it's water elevation levels. The reservoir did so last year after water rose above the conservation pool level. He said the city has an "informal agreement" with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to raise the levels 6/10 of a foot. That is subject to revocation and could change at any time.
Pajor said because of recent rains, the city has used more water out of Cheney instead of other sources. Last summer, he said, Cheney Reservoir got down to historically low levels. It was only 67% full at one point, the lowest it had been since it was originally filled.