Michael Pearce

The Eagle's outdoor reporter highlights the latest hunting, fishing and wildlife news.

More people deserve say in El Dorado water plan

05/29/2011 12:00 AM

05/29/2011 12:08 AM

A May 17 article in The Eagle told of how El Dorado hopes to sell water from its nearby lake to Wichita.

It's a cool idea with the way ground water supplies are dwindling.

But while promoting the idea, Kurt Bookout, El Dorado's director of public utilities, said the lake could be lowered five feet and not hurt boating or fishing.

Say what? That's a lot for a lake with so much shallow water.

Two men who work at the lake — Wildlife and Parks fisheries biologist Craig Johnson and state park manager Seth Turner — hadn't been contacted about the plan and disagreed with Bookout's view.

"I would seriously disagree," Johnson said. "I'm looking at a spot that if we were five feet low, I would be in about (eight inches) of water and I'm probably 400 yards from shore."

He figured a five-foot drop would remove about 1,300 surface acres of water from the lake that's about 8,000 acres at conservation pool.

Johnson said big draw-downs can be good or bad. Timing is everything.

Johnson said young fry and fingerlings often don't survive well when summer draw-downs don't leave a lot of shallow cover where they can go to escape bigger fish.

He also wondered what would happen if a long drought hit after El Dorado had drawn large amounts of water from the lake.

Turner said a five-foot drop would greatly affect boating.

"That would really impact the boat ramps. We'd only have a few boat ramps where people could launch safely," he said. "You couldn't use most of the courtesy docks, either."

Turner and Johnson predicted such a draw-down would lead to boats becoming beached or running into submerged objects.

Turner remembers a time when the lake was about 4 1/2 feet low about 12 years ago.

"Boating was bad," he said. "I'd hate to estimate how many stranded boat calls we had. Guys would buzz along where they normally had for years with no problems and the next thing they knew they were on a sandbar."

He fears low water could hurt attendance at Kansas' largest and most-used state park. Last year, El Dorado State Park hosted about 900,000 visitors.

"Who wants to go camping if you have to walk a long way across mud flats to get to water?" Turner said. "It would pretty much destroy use of the beach."

El Dorado's new water plan is in its early stages. It's not known how much impact an added draw down would have on lake levels. Bookout said last week that the city might put minimum lake levels in place for drawing water.

He also said with the added revenue from selling water, the city could start investing in things that would help the lake, especially when it was low from drought or draw-down.

El Dorado has won national awards for environmental projects. The town is full of avid outdoorsmen, Bookout included.

And water for human consumption is far more important than water for walleye fishing or jet skis.

El Dorado has every legal right to sap most of the water from the lake if it would like. It's in a great and possibly profitable position.

But we'll never replicate something as simple as water. Water's importance out here on the plains is going to continue to grow rapidly, too.

But El Dorado surely doesn't want to scuttle one of its claims to fame. Not many towns in America have an 8,000-acre lake at the edge of the city limits.

Let's hope their water plan progresses well. But it's time to include some folks in the know to represent anglers, boaters and campers, too.

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