Kansas could be facing more severe droughts in the future, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey.
    “It could get much, much worse,” said Jim Putnam, a hydrologist with the USGS.
    The USGS report shows that in the most recent drought from 2000 to 2006, rainfall levels were not that far from normal, only about one inch less than average.
    By comparison, the rainfall deficit during the devastating 1952-57 drought was nearly 6 inches below normal. Yet streamflows during the 2000-2006 drought hit record lows.
    “In the summer of 2006, flows at four long-term USGS stream gauges on the Republican, Saline, Solomon and Smoky Hill rivers in north-central and central Kansas were significantly lower than the 1930s and 1950s even though the rainfall deficit was not as severe,” Putnam said.
    That means if Kansas experiences the kind of rainfall deficits of the 1930s and 1950s, then the flow in some rivers would become virtually zero, he said.
    That could be difficult for cities like Salina, which depends on wells connected to the Smoky Hill River. Salina also resorted to water conservation measures during the 2006 flood.
    One of the reasons the streamflow was so low during the last drought — despite the nearly average precipitation — is because of the increase in lakes in Kansas, Putnam said. There were 12 of these in 1920 and more than 5,000 now.
    “These small and large lakes trap runoff and it either sinks into the ground or evaporates, not making it to the rivers,” Putnam said.
    Because many state water management programs are based on the 1950s drought, the study suggests those plans may need to be changed because lower streamflows may occur in future droughts.