ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BRENDA CONYERS
Besides the obvious cracks forming in the ground and in the walls of homes, how is the drought-if it is a drought-affecting Marion County?
According to the National Drought Mitigation (NDM) Center, “No single operational definition of drought works in all circumstances, and this is a big part of why policy makers, resource planners, and others have more trouble recognizing and planning for drought than for other natural disasters.”
The NDM considers four different factors in defining a drought: agricultural, meteorological and hydrological.
— Agricultural drought occurs when there isn’t enough soil moisture to meet the needs of a particular crop at a particular time. This is the first economic sector affected by drought.
— Meteorological drought is usually a decrease in precipitation from the normal amounts of precipitation over a period of time. This is usually the first indicator of drought.
According to the Corps of Engineers, the average rainfall for this area is 32 inches per year. The 1999 rainfall totaled 38.57 inches, a little above average. This year, through Oct. 16, the rainfall total is 20.53 inches. Marion County needs 11.47 inches to reach the average precipitation level.
The U.S. Drought Monitor monitors moisture levels throughout the country. All of central and parts of southern Kansas are listed as being in a severe drought area, with the northeastern corner listed as “abnormally dry.”
— Hydrological drought is a deficiency in surface and subsurface water supplies. It is measured in streamflow, lake, reservoir and groundwater levels. There is a lag time between lack of rain and decrease in water level, so these measurements are not the earliest indicators of drought.
Dale Snelling, Marion County Lake and Park superintendent, said, “The lake is close to two feet low right now-which is good, for as long as we’ve gone without rain.”
He said spring rains fed the lake through July. “We have basically lost two feet in two months.
“Evaporation will slow down with the cooler temperatures,” he said, “but what we have now is a normal summer up and down.”
Snelling said it would be important to the lake level to have good winter moisture, “if we don’t have winter moisture or spring, we could easily be down six or seven feet next year.”
Terry Holt of the Corps of Engineers reported similar conditions, saying the reservoir water table is down 2.5 feet.
Holt cautions boaters to be aware of obstacles that are usually under the water, but now are up and above. He also says boating ramps at French Creek and Durham are more difficult to launch boats.
Holt said the water supply is adequate at this time.
Besides “official” ways of determining drought, there are the “practical” ways, too.
— Fires. According to Wayne Lowry, Hillsboro fire chief, “Absolutely yes, the dryness has made a difference in our department.”
He reports an increase in fire runs this summer.
“The burn ban helped us out,” he said, “I think we had fewer runs than we would have otherwise.”
Lowry cautions people to be careful when cleaning up and burning hedge rows and brush. He says hedge can shoot sparks that will go a long way. The forecast for wind for the next several days would be an added danger.
He also said with the lift of the county’s burn ban, a lot of trash was available to be burned.
“I can really see two sides to this,” Lowry said. “When you don’t burn your trash, it accumulates and becomes a bigger risk when it is finally time to burn it.”
Cracks in walls and foundations are starting to appear.
Vince Jantz, of Jantz Construction, Inc., says he has seen siding shrink which causes a “pulling away” of the corners of homes.
He said just as there are cracks in the backyard, cracks can form right against foundation walls.
“Hillsboro has a building code,” he said, “that sets the bottom of footing 30 inches down.”
The idea to have the footing so deep into the ground is for utilizing stable soil. Freezing or dryness should not be a problem at this depth.
“But I just measured a crack that is three inches wide and 29 inches deep,” he said. “We are getting there.”
He said once the area gets a good rain, the water will go down through the cracks, along the foundation walls and cause some basements to leak.
Rain going down to the 30-inch area will probably cause unstable soil and ground shifting which might cause some cracks in foundations.
“I kind of hate to say it,” he said, “but I think it would be a good thing to ‘water the foundation.'”
Jantz said by keeping the soil moist around the foundation, the soil will remain stable in the deeper inches, perhaps avoiding problems when the rains come.
Greg Wolff, Greeley Gas Co. operations supervisor, said there has been an area-wide problem with breaks in gas and water lines.
“We were running gas leak surveys in Hillsboro when we first ran into the problem,” Wolff said. “But we’ve gotten them fixed. I think most of them have already been caught. There may be three or four more, but the ones that were going to break have broken.”
He said the types of plastic used have changed through the years. With the dry shifting ground, pipes have been shifted to their breaking points.
“The new Phillips pipe we use is approved gas piping,” he said. “We actually pinch it off to shut the line down. It is very pliable.”
Most of the problems have been in the lines of homes about 20 years old, he said.
“They have finally settled and the ground has shifted.”
Wolff said he hasn’t seen a drought like this in 20 years. He cautions people to watch for possible line breaks when the rains come because the ground will be shifting back again.
The Kansas Corporation Commission has sent out a bulletin warning about the problems with broken lines all over the state.
“If you smell gas, call us” Wolff said. “We have a 24-hour emergency line, and we will come check it out.”
For suspected gas leaks, call 1-800-662-6185.l
Marty Fredrickson, Marion City superintendent, said this has been a severe year for cracks in roads.
“It has been more excessive than in other years,” he said.
Fredrickson said Marion is not unique with the road problems.
“I have talked with other cities in the area, and we aren’t the only one. It has just been a severe year,” Fredrickson said.