County drought status improves to ‘warning’ from ‘emergency,’ but water shortages remain
Recent rains in Douglas County have partially replenished area reservoirs and restored some soil moisture, improving drought conditions — but not enough to officially declare the drought over.
State officials said Monday that Gov. Sam Brownback has issued an executive order improving the county's drought status to "warning" from "emergency," even as many other Kansas counties had their drought designations lifted or continued.
"One of our primary concerns is water supply," said Diane Coe, an environmental scientist with the Kansas Water Office. "Counties that are left under a warning are still behind, based on data we formulated. Both soil moisture and reservoir levels are low."
So far in August, the National Weather Service has recorded 3.25 inches of rain at the Lawrence Municipal Airport, slightly below the average for August of 4.05 inches.
Sue Gehrt, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' manager at Clinton Lake, said the reservoir is currently about 2.8 feet below what what it considers a normal level.
"We've had some nice rains, but not enough to produce runoff into the lake," Gehrt said. "You need big rains once you've had a drought like this. These one-inch rains just soak into the ground."
According to the latest data from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, about 21 percent of the topsoil moisture in northeast Kansas is rated as short or very short. Subsoil moisture is rated 18 percent short or very short.
Since July 2012, all 105 counties in Kansas had officially been listed under a drought emergency. But after several rains in recent weeks, Brownback lowered the status to a warning level for 20 counties, including Douglas County.
Another 25 counties were lowered to "drought watch" status, while 23 counties were removed from the drought list altogether. But 37 counties, mainly in western Kansas, remain under a drought emergency, according to the governor's office.