KDWP, irrigation district agree to ten-year contract establishing ‘minimum pool’

The Kansas Department of Wildlife & Parks and Almena Irrigation District have agreed to a contract that will help maintain recreational use of Keith Sebelius Reservoir. The ten-year contract allows use of water for agricultural irrigation when the lake level is above a prescribed minimum level, but prohibits irrigation withdrawals once the lake’s surface falls below that level.

The minimum mean sea level elevation of the lake’s surface (msl) prescribed in the contract is 2,288.5 feet. Once the lake is reduced to that level, no water releases will be allowed. The lake, located in Norton County, is currently at about 2289 feet msl, 15 feet below the ‘conservation pool’ level for which it was designed.

“Basically, it protects about 8 to 10 vertical feet of water from withdrawal, so that the fisheries and access to the lake continue to be viable and serve the lake’s recreational users,” said Steve Price, KDWP’s Region 1 fisheries supervisor.

Sebelius’ water levels have experienced substantial fluctuation since the lake was built in 1964. Recreational opportunities there have fluctuated as well, declining in dry years when inflows to the lake were insufficient to maintain adequate water to accommodate both recreation and irrigation. In addition to the fishing and boating recreation it provides, the lake is home to Prairie Dog State Park and Norton Wildlife Area, which are operated by KDWP under licenses from the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The ability to maintain some water in the lake will help ensure that its fish populations survive, and that boat ramps and other access to the lake remain useable.

“This agreement illustrates that irrigation interests and public recreation interests can work together to maintain a healthy lake,” said Doug Sebelius, a Kansas Wildlife and Parks Commission member from Norton. The ten-year agreement follows a series of short-term agreements between the department and irrigation district during the past three years. The agreement will not affect the City of Norton’s ability to release water for their public water supply because those releases have little effect on reservoir water levels.