2020 could bring more serious flooding to Kansas

November 17, 2019 GMT

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — 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.

This year’s floods damaged at least $15 million worth of infrastructure and generated $3.8 million in federal flood insurance claims.

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.

Earlier this year a March “bomb cyclone,” or a storm that grows quickly, rapidly melted snow and led to the wettest May in recorded Kansas history.

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 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.

Annual average precipitation in the United States has increased by 4 percent since 1901, according to the congressionally mandated Fourth National Climate Assessment. The frequency and intensity of heavy rain is projected to continue increasing over the next century. Extreme rainstorms once expected every 25 years may occur every five or 10 years.

“It’s not just that, ‘Oh, it’s going to be wetter, or it’s going to be dryer.’ But it’s that the rain that does arrive is going to be arriving at different times in the year and at different intensities,” said Anna Weber, a senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.

Weber says governments need to examine whether infrastructure is built to handle a more punishing weather.

Senate Vice President Jeff Longbine, an Emporia Republican, chaired a special committee last week that examined the Kansas floods. He said research shows more frequent flooding and flooding of longer duration.

Longbine said “I don’t think we know” when asked whether the floods are a consequence of climate change.

“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.”