AUGUSTA — A scorched brown front yard may soon become a sign of civic duty here. This parched pocket of south-central Kansas has missed most of the showers that have doused Wichita, leaving it with less than half its average rainfall this year.
Acres of dried mud surround Augusta City Lake, a prime community amenity and the source of a third of the city's potable water.
By mid-August, the lake could be tapped out as a water source unless heavy rainfall or water conservation extend its life.
Earlier this week, thunderstorms missed the city by about 15 miles and drenched Rose Hill.
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"It's like there's a little dome over our community, and it's really disheartening," said City Manager Bill Keefer. "We're praying for a good rain."
Meanwhile, Augusta has slowed its water use during a heat wave.
The city pool remains open to give people some relief.
But the city delivered mandatory water restrictions earlier this week that prohibit letting water run down the gutter and limit most outdoor water use to 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. on select days.
People with even-numbered addresses can water Mondays and Thursdays. Odd-numbered addresses get the same hours Tuesday and Friday.
Violators get a warning posted on their property. Subsequent violations can draw fines of $50 to $300 — and result in loss of service.
Next Monday, the City Council will discuss conservation water rates that charge people more per gallon if they exceed the amount they typically use in the winter, when they aren't watering outdoors.
If the drought continues, the city may consider closing pools and coin-operated car washes.
People seem to understand.
Augusta gets two-thirds of its water piped in through an aging water line from El Dorado.
But the pipe can't deliver enough to supply Augusta's needs — or the needs of Augusta's primary wholesale customer, Mulvane, which also faces restrictions.
Keefer said the city hasn't conducted any in-depth studies of building a higher-capacity water line. But, he added, the cost would be prohibitive.
The city can draw some water from nearby Santa Fe Lake.
But that lake looks even worse than Augusta City Lake. It's a fraction of its former self, complete with fish skeletons and buoys stranded in the cracking topography of the parched lake bed.
The pump at Santa Fe Lake has run for more than a year.
Meanwhile, more water is disappearing from Augusta City Lake every day, exposing littered beer cans, fishing lures and tires that have been hidden by water for years.
"This is a great asset to the city of Augusta," said Linda Williams, who has lived in a home near the edge of Augusta City Lake for 25 years.
The water used to rise about halfway up the dam in front of her house, she said. It often crested the spillway dam and filled a drainage creek that winds through a nearby city park.
This year it hasn't even come close.
Yellow signs in the park say "NO WADING." But there's nothing to wade in.
Williams sees some advantages, like the ability to speed up a dam restoration project.
The city had planned to fix the north face of the dam and replace the spillway, which would have required draining much of the lake.
Now that water levels are down, the city's considering going ahead with the $2.3 million project sooner.
Still, Williams is like many homeowners and doesn't like to watch her normally green front yard turn brown.
"But we don't have a choice. We're all in the same boat so we may as well work together," she said.
Augusta Country Club, a semi-private golf course, has been cutting back on water use for years, said its board president, Rusty Patterson.
Course stockholders decided to switch from rye and bluegrass fairways to the less demanding Bermuda grass about 15 years ago, producing a 30 percent savings, Patterson said.
Last year, the course spent about $135,000 on a retention pond that it can pump water out of. That saves a lot of money and reduces city water usage.
But it has gotten so dry lately that the course has had to spend hundreds of dollars a day on city water to provide enough water to keep the putting greens green.
"We're trying to just barely keep it alive," Patterson said of the courses' grass. "Hopefully, we'll get that toad strangler and collect all that runoff."
Golfer Joe Gorst pointed to the brown grass in the fairways as he drove a cart around the course to show how dry it has gotten.
"It used to be that you couldn't get a bad lie in (the fairway)," he said. "It's gotten pretty bad."
But Augusta has weathered droughts and water restrictions before.
"We all understand it," Gorst said. "It'll be worse if the lake goes dry."