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Rain, snow helped a little with drought

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, March 11, 2013, at 11:53 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, at 2:53 p.m.

The two heavy snows late last month and this weekend’s soaking rain have taken a bite out of the drought in the Wichita area, local weather officials say.

But the drought’s not over just yet.

City officials cautioned that the heavy snow and recent rains did little to improve declining water levels at Cheney Reservoir, which threaten the city’s water supply.

“Although the recent rain event helped, the water added to Cheney was less than 6 inches, which takes it from 58 percent full to 59 percent full,” said Alan King, Wichita’s director of public works.

“Again, this helps but it is not even close to what we need to be whole again.”

In late February, King’s staff warned the city council that Cheney Reservoir, which supplies about 60 percent of Wichita’s water, will be dry by mid-2015 if the drought continues. Council members are expected to take up options to address the shortage — including finding new water supplies and raising water rates to discourage outdoor water use — in several weeks after reaching out to the community for feedback.

“It’ll take a heavy rain event — more of a prolonged event would be the best — to get that replenished,” Janet Spurgeon, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service, said about Cheney Reservoir. “Hopefully, we’ll get back to our seasonal spring rainfall and start getting that replenished again.”

Unless, of course, a strong thunderstorm moves slowly over the lake itself.

Sedgwick County’s precipitation deficit is still at least 3 inches, she said, and areas just east and south of Wichita have deficits as high as 12 inches.

The U.S. Drought Monitor reports that south-central Kansas is still in a drought, but the severity has lessened. Until Feb. 26, the area had been classified as being in an exceptional drought, the most severe drought classification marked by water emergencies and widespread crop losses. The area is now in an extreme drought, the second most severe drought classification, characterized by widespread water restrictions and shortages.

But that was before a half-inch or more of rain fell in Sedgwick County over the weekend. A new drought report will be issued Thursday.

“Everyone seems upbeat” said Mike Smith, AccuWeather vice president, who has made recent speaking appearances around Kansas.

While he doesn’t put much stock in forecasts more than 10 days out, Smith said, “I continue to be encouraged” that April will see steady rains consistent with seasonal norms.

If that happens, Spurgeon said, “it’ll do a lot of good.”

Reach Stan Finger at 316-268-6437 or sfinger@wichitaeagle.com.

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