Kansas Water Office

Flying east to west over Kansas, the land transforms from lush green to desert brown. Rectangular farm plots fill in with emerald circles, the work of center-pivot irrigation.

Outside Garden City, in the middle of one of those circles, Dwane Roth scoops up soil to reveal an inconspicuous PVC pipe. It’s a soil moisture probe that tells Roth exactly how much water his crops need. The device is one of many new technologies designed to help farmers make the most of every drop.

“All that you have to do is open up your app,” said Roth. “It’s going to tell you, you don’t need to irrigate or you’re going to need to apply an inch within  six days.”

ARVIN G. BOYER / KANSAS CITY DISTRICT U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS

The Kansas Water Office has received more than $2.5 million from the federal government to help fight harmful algae blooms in the state's largest lake. 

Bryan Thompson / Heartland Health Monitor

Kansas owns water storage in 14 federal reservoirs managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. But the storage capacity of those lakes is gradually diminishing, as topsoil from waterways and farms upstream washes into the reservoirs and settles to the bottom.

As Heartland Health Monitor’s Bryan Thompson explains, state officials recently began trying to extend the life of the eastern Kansas reservoir where the problem is most critical.

How Close Is Kansas To Another Dust Bowl?

Feb 7, 2013
USDAgov / Flickr

If Kansas' current drought continues through 2013, the severity of the water shortage may rival the bad years of the 1930s and '50s.

The drought is already causing problems and prompting Wichita city officials to think about water rationing.

The drought is bad by several measures. This year's winter wheat harvest will likely be well below normal, due to low rain during planting last fall.

For ranchers, there isn't as much grazing land, so they'll likely have to sell their cattle earlier at lower weights. And area rivers and streams are near record low levels.