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Kansas River Flow Study

Kansas River Flow Study

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Published by Ron Sylvester
A study by the Kansas offices of the U.S. Geological Survey compares falling river flows with precipitation during droughts.
A study by the Kansas offices of the U.S. Geological Survey compares falling river flows with precipitation during droughts.

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Published by: Ron Sylvester on Sep 07, 2011
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U.S. Department of the InteriorU.S. Geological SurveyFact Sheet 2008–3034April 2008
ydrologic Droughts in Kansas—
re They Becoming Worse?
By James E. Putnam, Charles A. Perry, and David M. Wolock
Printed on recycled paper
Multi-year droughts have been a recurrent feature of theclimate and hydrology of Kansas since at least the 1930s.Streamflow records collected by the U.S. Geological Survey(USGS) indicate that water years 2000 to 2006 (October 1,1999, through September 30, 2006) represent the sixth hydro-logic drought during the past eight decades, and that corre-sponding streamflow levels in some parts of Kansas were lowerthan those during historic droughts of the1930s and 1950s, even though theprecipitation deficit was not assevere. Record-low stream-flows in water year 2006were recorded at USGSstreamgages on theRepublican, SmokyHill, Solomon, Saline,upper Kansas, middleArkansas, and LittleArkansas Rivers, aswell as many tributarysites, and one tributarysite of the Neosho River(fig. 1, table 1).Low streamflows dur-ing the hydrologic drought alsoresulted in record low levels atthree Federal reservoirs in Kansas(fig. 1, table 2). An unprecedented number of administrativedecisions were made by the Division of Water Resources,Kansas Department of Agriculture to curtail water diversionsfrom rivers to maintain minimum desirable streamflows, andlow flows on the lower Republican River in Kansas createdconcerns that Colorado and Nebraska were not complying withthe terms of the 1943 Republican River Compact.
Statewide Runoff and StreamflowConditions
Daily streamflow data for water years 1900–2007 are usedto estimate average annual runoff (streamflow per unit area) forall streamgages in Kansas (U.S. Geological Survey, 2006a).The median runoff for each water year is then determined.Statewide median runoff for Kansas for water years 1920–2006(fig. 2) indicates large departures from median runoff duringfive historic hydrologic droughts in Kansas that occurred during1929–41, 1952–57, 1962–72, 1974–82, and 1988–92 (Paulsonand others, 1991). The severity of streamflow conditions duringwater years 2000–06 is apparent whencomparing the departures from medianannual runoff for that period with thoseduring the historic droughts. Annualrunoff in Kansas was below the medianall years during 2000–06 except wateryear 2004, which was near the median.Water year 2006, the driest year duringthe 2000–06 hydrologic drought, hadthe second lowest annual runoff during1920–2006; the lowest annual runoff for Kansas occurred in water year1956.The streamflow effects of droughtduring water years 2000–06 werefocused in northern Kansas on theRepublican, Saline, Solomon, andSmoky Hill Rivers (fig. 1), whereas the1950s drought effect was focused morein southeastern Kansas on the Verdi-gris, Fall, and Neosho Rivers (Paulsonand others, 1991). Average annualflows at four long-term streamgages(fig. 3) indicate that average annualstreamflow during 2000–06 at eachof the streamgages was less than theaverage annual streamflow during otherhistoric droughts in Kansas. Further-more, the average annual flow for allstreamgages was less than 25 percentof long-term median annual flow dur-ing 2000–06, indicating the severityof the drought. For example, annualaverage streamflow for the RepublicanRiver at Clay Center (site 5, fig. 1,fig. 3
, table 1), in continuous opera-tion since 1919, was less than the long-term median streamflow each wateryear since 2000 and was the lowest on record in water year2006. Moreover, five of the 10 lowest annual average flows forthe Clay Center gage occurred during 2000–06 (U.S. Geologi-cal Survey, 2006b).
Current and HistoricPrecipitation
Meteorological conditionsduring the 2000–06 drought weredifferent than those during previ-ous severe droughts in the 1930sand 1950s. Statewide averageannual precipitation for Kansasduring water years 2000–06(fig. 4) was greater than that dur-ing all previous droughts exceptfor the 1974–82 drought (NationalOceanic and Atmospheric Admin-istration, 2007a). Furthermore,statewide average annual precipi-tation for water years 2000–06was less than 1 inch below nor-mal, whereas the average annualprecipitation during one of theworst Kansas droughts, 1952–57,was nearly 6 inches below normal.The average statewide Palmer
Figure 1.
Drought conditions by hydrologic unit in Kansas, comparison of water year 2006 streamflows with all other annual streamflows,water years 1930–2006, and location of streamgage with record-low annual streamflow in water year 2006, and reservoirs with record-lowelevations, water years 2000–06 (hydrologic units from Seaber and others, 1987; data for drought conditions from WaterWatch, 2006(U.S. Geological Survey, 2007a).
Figure 2.
Statewide runoff showing annual departure of runoff from the statewide median of 1.63inches per year and a 5-year moving average line for water years 1920–2006. Wetter years plot above the median line and drier years plot below the median line, (data from U.S. Geological Survey, 2006a).
020 4060 KILOMETERS60 MILES40200 102°101°100°99°98°97°96°95°40°39°38°37°
 S o u t h
F  o  r   k
  R e p u  b  l  i c a n
R   i  v  e  r
 C ree k
 L i t t l e
 B e a v e r
  B e a v e r
S a p p a
C r .
 P r a i r i e
 C ree k
S  l  i  
S   m  k  y  
R  i  v  r  
L   a  d    d    e  r   
W   h  i  t  w  
R  K  N  S  S  
R  I  V   E   R  
 B e a r
 C i m a r r o n
 Wa l n u t
 C r.
R  i  v  r  
C  r  k  
R    i    v   e  r   
  N o r  t  h
F   o  r  k  
C    r   o  o  k   e  d    C    r   e  e  k   
 R a t t l e s n a k e
M  d  i  i  
R     i     v    e   r    
R     i     v    e   r    
  N o r  t  h
N    i    n   n   e  s   c   a  h   
R    i    v   e   r   
A   R   K    A   N   S    A   S    
R       I       V       E       R       
L    i     t    t    l     e   A    r    k    a   n   s   a   s   
R       i        v      e     r      
 W a l    n u t  
R        i        v      e      r      
C    o   t   t   o   n  w   o   o   d    
V     e   r    d     i      g    r    i     s   
R       i       v     e     r     
R   i    v   e  r   
F    a  l    l    
N   e  o  s  h  o  
R    i    v   e   r   
M    a  r   a  i    s  
R       i       v     e     r     
R  .
 K A N S A S
R  I  V  E  R  
S   t   r   a  n   g  e  r   
 C   r   e  e  k   
D    e   l     a   w   a   r   e   
R      i      v     e    r     
 B  i     g
B   l    u   e  
R     i     v    e   r    
L         i         t        t        l         e      
R        e        p      u      b        l         i         c      a      n      
R       i       v     e     r     
W  i  t  
S  l  
R   i    v   e  r   
S   l  i  
R  i   v  e  r  S   m  o  k   y  
   H   i   l   l
M    I    S     S     O    U    R    I    
R   I   V   E   R   
C   r  k  
M idd le
 F o r k F o r k
 S o u t h
Milford Lake 
Milford Lake Kanopolis Lake 
Kanopolis Lake Perry Lake 
Perry Lake 
Base from U.S. Geological Survey digital data, 1:2,000,000, 1994Albers Equal-Area Conic projectionStandard parallels 29°30' and 45°30', central meridian -96°00'
Streamgage with record-low annualaverage streamflow—
Map indexnumber shown in table 1
Reservoir with record-low elevation— 
Map index number shown in table 2
Drought condition by hydrologic unitDrainage basin
Missouri River BasinLower Mississippi River Basin
Basin boundary
Below normalNormal
    1    9    2    0    1    9    2    5    1    9    3    0    1    9    3    5    1    9    4    0    1    9    4    5    1    9    5    0    1    9    5    5    1    9    6    0    1    9    6    5    1    9    7    0    1    9    7    5    1    9    8    0    1    9    8    5    1    9    9    0    1    9    9    5    2    0    0    0    2    0    0    5    2    0    1    0    A   n   n   u   a    l    d   e   p   a   r   t   u   r   e    f   r   o   m    m   e    d    i   a   n   a   n   n   u   a    l   r   u   n   o    f    f ,    i   n    i   n   c    h   e   s   p   e   r   y   e   a   r
192941 195257 196272Water yearPeriod of hydrologic drought197482 198892 200006
Drought Severity Index (PDSI), one of the indices used toclassify and assess long-term meteorological droughts (Hayes,2002), for water years 2000–06 was -0.03 (normal), whereasthe average PDSI for the 1952–57 drought was -3.22, indicatinga severe drought (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admin-istration, 2007b). Statewide average precipitation during thefive consecutive driest years of the 2000–06 drought also wasgreater than the statewide average precipitation during the fivedriest years of the 1930s and 1950s droughts (fig. 5); however,the annual statewide median runoff during the 2000–2006drought was near the low runoff levels that occurred in the1930s and the 1950s. Precipitation in the area of Kansas wheremost of the record-low streamflows occurred during water year2006 was generally about 75–90 percent of normal, not an indi-cation of a significant lack of precipitation (National Oceanicand Atmospheric Administration, 2007a).
Runoff-Precipitation Relation
The Statewide relation between runoff and precipitation(fig. 5) does not indicate that there has been a significant changein runoff between past droughts and the 2000–06 drought whencomparing the lowest five consecutive years of runoff in eachdrought. This statewide analysis, however, includes many areasof Kansas that were not even in drought conditions duringmuch of 2000–06. The relation indicates that, generally, runoff increases as precipitation increases, an intuitive conclusion.However, if the same analysis is completed using median annualrunoff for the four long-term sites in Kansas (fig. 3) that repre-sent the worst drought-affected areas during the 2000s drought,the results appear different (fig. 6) because the regional affectsof the 2000s drought are not smoothed by statewide averaging
Table 2.
Location of Federal reservoirs in Kansas with record low elevations during water years 2000–06.
[Data from Putnam and Schneider, 2003 and U.S. Geological Survey, 2006c; mi
, square miles; ft,
Map indexnumber(fig. 1)Station nameDrainagearea(mi
)Top of conserva- tion poolelevation (ft)Lowest elevation and datePercentconservationpool
Elevation (ft)Water Year
6Milford Lake near Junction City 24,880 1,144.4 1,136.902003689Kanopolis Lake near Kanopolis 7,857 1,463 1,456.2220065520Perry Lake near Perry 1,117 891.5 884.90200364
Table 1.
U.S. Geological Survey streamgages with record-low average annual streamflows during water year 2006.
[Data from U.S. Geological Survey, 2006b; mi
, square miles; ft
 /s, cubic feet per second]
Map indexnumber(fig. 1)Station nameDrainagearea (mi
)Long-term medianannual averagestreamflow (ft
 /s) Water year 2006annual averagestreamflow (ft
 /s)Years ofrecord
1 Prairie Dog Creek near Woodruff, KS 1,0070.110.03612 White Rock Creek near Burr Oak, KS22722.52.52493 Republican River near Hardy, NE22,40138019.2744 Republican River at Concordia, KS 23,56049244.9605 Republican River at Clay Center, KS 24,54282782.7887 Big Creek near Hays, KS54918.4 .71608 Smoky Hill River at Ellsworth, KS7,58015124.29410 Smoky Hill River near Mentor, KS8,35827426.86511 Saline River near Russell, KS 1,50247.73.595512 Saline River at Tescott, KS 2,82012014.18613 Smoky Hill River at New Cambria, KS 11,73039860.34414 North Fork Solomon River at Portis, KS2,31577.811.85415 South Fork Solomon River at Osborne, KS 2,01242.04.106116 Solomon River at Niles, KS 6,77032872.09517 Smoky Hill River at Enterprise, KS19,2601,1391917218 Kansas River at Fort Riley, KS44,8702,0194184219 Little Blue River near Barnes, KS 3,3516292134821 Cow Creek near Lyons, KS72853.47.425822 Little Arkansas River at Alta Mills, KS 73616811.83323 Lightning Creek near McCune, KS19713110.755

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