Needed rains restore Wilson Lake

Wilson Lake along the Post Rock Scenic Byway (Photo credit: Ryan Breeze)

Wilson Lake along the Post Rock Scenic Byway (Photo credit: Ryan Breeze)

By Jennifer McDaniel, for the Lincoln Sentinel

A surge of moisture from the remnants of Hurricane Newton helped produce wave after wave of heavy rainfall across portions of Lincoln County in September, filling nearby Wilson Reservoir and other area lakes which only months earlier were dealing with the grim effects of a persistent drought.

By Kansas standards, the month of September was a wet one. Although temperatures begin to show signs of moderating as the seasons shift, the month is known for being hot and dry. But this year, rainfall amounts across a portion of the state, especially north central Kansas, were extreme, causing flash flooding.

In the month of September, rainfall totals varied from as much as six to eight inches in nearby Lincoln County, to two to six inches across Ellsworth County.

And that’s good news for the United States Army Corps of Engineers, which oversee Wilson and Kanopolis reservoirs.

At Wilson Lake, the same storms added much-needed moisture, restoring a reservoir that saw unprecedented low water levels last year.

 

BEFORE: Looking from the Wilson Lake spillway boat ramp parking area to the northwest at the dam (Photo credit: Terri Thrun)

BEFORE (April, 2015): Looking from the Wilson Lake spillway boat ramp parking area to the northwest at the dam (Photo credit: Terri Thrun)

AFTER: Looking from the Wilson Lake spillway boat ramp parking area to the northwest at the dam (Photo credit: Terri Thrun)

AFTER (September 21, 2016): Looking from the Wilson Lake spillway boat ramp parking area to the northwest at the dam (Photo credit: Terri Thrun)

 

The decline in water depth became so much of a concern that in April 2015, the Corps of Engineers cautioned boaters about exposed logs and other hazards now made visible because of declining water levels. At that time, the lake, which borders Lincoln and Russell counties, was 8.5 feet below what officials considered normal. The following month, the lake was down 8.6 feet, surpassing the previous low in December 2006 when levels were 7.25 feet below normal.

Wilson Lake started falling below normal levels in May 2012. But it wasn’t until the summer of 2015 when the lake hit its lowest point – dropping to 10.5 feet below normal.

 

BEFORE (August, 2015): Looking out to Wilson Lake from the Lucas Park boat ramp. (Photo credit: Terri Thrun)

BEFORE (August, 2015): Looking out to Wilson Lake from the Lucas Park boat ramp. (Photo credit: Terri Thrun)

BEFORE (August, 2015): Looking out to Wilson Lake from the Lucas Park boat ramp. (Photo credit: Terri Thrun)

BEFORE (August, 2015): Looking out to Wilson Lake from the Lucas Park boat ramp. (Photo credit: Terri Thrun)

 

 

Despite heavy rainfall earlier this spring, the lake remained 9.5 feet below normal. With the water too shallow in some areas, officials decided to close Cedar Creek Boat Ramp, and advised boaters to avoid a majority of the lake’s other ramps, which were high and dry. Only two boat ramps were accessible to the public, including the Spillway Boat Ramp near the east end of the dam, and the Wilson State Park Hell Creek Boat Ramp.

But just a few months later, water levels are well above normal and continue to stay that way.

Currently, there are six useable boat ramps, including those at Hell Creek, Otoe, the spillway, East Minooka and Lucas. Officials said the Elm Creek Boat Ramp is also open, but only for small boats.

The third-highest inflows ever recorded at a river gauge upstream of Wilson Lake raised the water level by almost seven feet, helping the lake recover from the effects of a five-year drought.

Heavy rains from a September 2 storm produced inflows of nearly 23,000 cubic feet per second at the Saline River gauge north of Russell, corps officials said. The additional water brought the lake to 1.28 feet above its normal water level, and one foot above what officials shoot for at this time of the year. Last Saturday, water levels at the lake remained nearly three feet above normal.

“With the conservation pool now 100 percent full, any additional inflows will occupy space in the flood control pool,” Wilson Lake Operations Project Manager Dan Hays said. “The lake operational manual governs the release of water from the lake. Flood control space in all corps lakes is used only to temporarily store flood waters, and then evacuate that water from storage as quickly as downstream conditions permit, such that flows and water levels downstream remain within limits that do not cause significant flood damages.”

Hays said inflows from the Saline River remain strong, and could require the release of water from the lake. Consequently, conditions within the downstream Kansas River Basin, along with the conditions at other lakes, such as Waconda and Kanopolis, will be considered before determining the magnitude of any flood control release from Wilson Lake in the days ahead, he said at the time of the interview in mid-September.

At Kanopolis, corps officials consider the reservoir full when it reaches 1,463 feet above conservation pool – which is the targeted operation level for the reservoir. On September 10, the lake measured six feet above normal. By Saturday afternoon, September 17, water levels fell slightly in a week’s time, measuring 4.83 feet above normal.

Kanopolis Lake, which consumes about 3,550 surface acres, is one unit in a system of lakes in the Smoky Hill and Kansas River basins. Kanopolis operates together with the upstream Cedar Bluff Reservoir to regulate flows in the Smoky Hill River Basin.

A portion of the lake storage is used to provide water to Post Rock Rural Water District, which in turn, supplies local farms and communities.

This article originally appeared in the Trader Fall Outdoors Guide. Find the Trader Outdoor Guide where Waconda Traders are available, or online.

Photos provided through the Wilson Lake Area Association Facebook page with information on activities in and around the lake.