Could 2020 bring more serious flooding to Kansas?

November 17, 2019 - 10:36 am
Flooding of Cottonwood River near Emporia, Kansas: May 2019

Rodney Price - KNSS News


More than six months after floodwaters overwhelmed Lakeside Village’s well system, the roughly 150 residents of the northeast Kansas community drink, cook and bathe with water hauled in by the Kansas National Guard - up to 40,000 gallons daily.

The Kansas City Star reports it’s one example of the lingering damage from floodwaters that rose across Kansas and the region earlier this year. Lawmakers at the Capitol last week heard from state and federal officials who told them to be ready for more.

Kansas Adjutant General Lee Tafanelli said excess water that hasn’t evaporated, heavier snowfalls and early storms could set the conditions for a 2020 with more flooding.

The official NOAA forecast through January says the probability of greater than normal moisture exists over much of Kansas.  Subsequent forecasts from February to June 2020 show no clear signal of above normal or below normal precipitation. 

National Weather Service meteorologist Chad Omitt said it’s hard to be sure whether Kansas can expect similar flooding in the coming years, but it’s important for the state to be ready.

“This is a land of extremes,” he said.

Kansas had its wettest May ever, as areas that typically receive 4 or 5 inches of rain got 20 inches or more that month, driving more than 90 percent of the state’s monitored rivers above flood stage.

Floodwaters damaged at least $15 million worth of infrastructure and generated $3.8 million in federal flood insurance claims.  The floods also damaged 11 dams, mostly in eastern Kansas. Wastewater treatment facilities struggled to keep up, with some 1.3 billion gallons of sewage flowing into Kansas rivers and streams in May, according to the state Department of Health and Environment. Line breaks, water pressure loss and inundated wells prompted officials to issue 14 boil-water advisories.

Lakeside Village was one of three communities that had to find alternative water sources.

Village board President Jerry White said residents have been encouraged to conserve as much as possible. Water still comes out of the tap, but only because the National Guard brings in a fresh supply daily. It’s possible the community will get its well water back by the end of the year.

Senate Vice President Jeff Longbine, an Emporia Republican, chaired a special committee last week that examined the Kansas floods. “We can often go from extremely rainy seasons to extreme drought very quickly. So it’s a matter of determining if there is anything we can do,” Longbine said. “We can’t legislate Mother Nature, but what we can do is be better prepared for the extremes.”

After Kansas' wet period earlier in the year, moderate to severe drought conditions have developed, mainly in the western third of the state.

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