The History of Kansas Water

Troubled Waters

Many Kansas cities and towns are located close to rivers or creeks because water was essential to early settlements. Before the extent of major groundwater sources, such as the High Plains Aquifer, had been determined, digging wells in search of water was hit or miss. Towns not on streams were often built near springs.

Most years, precipitation in the form of rain, sleet, or snow is greatest in eastern Kansas and gradually declines toward the west. The wettest area, on average, gets 45 inches per year and the driest less than 20 inches. As a result, eastern Kansas has more surface water like rivers, creeks, wetlands and lakes. Western Kansas relies on the Ogallala Aquifer which is seeing great declines in many areas.

Few Kansas lakes and ponds occur naturally. The majority of these waters were created when a dam was built, with large pools of water accumulating behind the dams. These reservoirs were built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to help control floods throughout the 1940s, 50s and 60s as well as provide sources of water for public water supply, irrigation and recreation.

Today, nearly two-thirds of Kansans rely on reservoirs for drinking water. However, there are challenges with maintaining these vital sources of water supply within the state. They require protection from sedimentation, which takes up water supply storage space. In the case of reservoirs here in Kansas, which were only given about 50 to 100 years to last when built, the costly removal of sediment within reservoirs will become the only option remaining to restore water supply capacity lost to sedimentation.

Looking back through history, specific generations have become known for key achievements, traits and ideals. So, what about our generation? What will we be remembered for? It could be for putting personal politics and differences aside, rolling up our sleeves and working together to ensure future generations have a reliable source of water to fuel our state’s economy.


Kansas Water, Tomorrow & Partners

The Ogallala Aquifer is losing water faster than it is refilling. Reservoirs, which are critical water storage structures for much of our state, are filling with sediment. At the current rate, with no changes in the next 50 years, the Ogallala will be 70 percent depleted and our reservoirs will be 40 percent filled with sediment.

Protecting our water resources and addressing Kansas extreme climate variability will be important to maintaining and improving our quality of life and the state’s economy.

This isn’t a political issue. It’s a Kansas issue that both sides of the aisle agree must be addressed. Due diligence in protecting our water resources and adapting to future climate variability will be important to maintaining and improving our quality of life and the state’s economy.

Because Kansas crops, livestock and cattle feed our nation, this isn’t only a Kansas issue. It’s an American issue as well. If we neglect to address the future of our water and refrain from utilizing the tools and resources available to help conserve and extend the usable life of this resource we undoubtedly will face dire situations in the years ahead.

We must plan for the future today.



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