Week by week and foot by foot, the rippling lake alongside Hugh Ryans Lees Summit home has been shrinking beneath a searing Midwest drought.
Its shore has become a mudflat.
Long-submerged trash, bottles and cans jut from the exposed shoreline.
His pontoon boat, once bobbing in its slip at Lakewood, now sits stranded, lodged in silt alongside other vessels languishing like his own.
We live on a cove here at Lakewood and have watched it become a mud pie, the 63-year-old lawyer said Wednesday. Normally, we would see the water down 4 or 5 feet this time of year. Its down about 8 or 10. My boat is sitting on a big rock and I cant get to it.
The story of the areas urban lakes, ponds and streams might appear, on its watery surface, to be one of bleak depletion.
The lake at Olathes Heritage Park has lost a third of its volume. Shawnee Mission Lake is down 18 inches.
Longview Lake is 2 feet below normal and Lake Jacomo, down between 2 and 21/2 feet.
Smithville Lake, at 7,100 acres, has dropped a foot and a half; its main feeder, the Little Platte River, is all but bone dry.
We are in a bad way. This is drying up streams and ponds, said Brian Kelly, office chief for the Kansas City district of the U.S. Geological Survey.
But, he added, as far as our water supplies, well be fine.
And the situation, experts said Wednesday, is improving.
Lakes and streams and ponds, as bad as they look, are not as stressed as they might appear and, indeed, are better now than they were last week when the volume in many lakes and ponds was at record lows. Cooler weather, which slows evaporation and keeps plants from drinking water out of lakes and streams, has helped greatly, as have a few small recent rains.
Stuff is low, for sure, said Andy Jensen, fisheries biologist for the Kansas City district of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. We were down in Cedar Lake in Olathe, and the mudflat is in the upper end. Hillsdale is quite low, like 2.3 feet low.
Low water is not something you want, but as long as there is still enough for the fish and other aquatic organisms, well be OK. That seems to be the case. Weve been lucky.
Brian Loving, a hydrologist also with the U.S. Geological Survey in Lawrence, said, The metro area is better off than the rest of the state.
Although no substantial rain is forecast in the near future, he and others maintain that one or two good rain storms are all thats needed to set things straight in the areas lakes and streams.
The situation this summer is in stark contrast to last year, when large areas of Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska along the Missouri River were submerged under enough water to cover interstate highways and entire houses.
Scientists last month reporting in the journal Geoscience, however, suggest that the future will bring more of what the Midwest has been experiencing this year. They report the drought in the West from 2000 to 2004 was the worst in 800 years, and they expect that global warming will create drier decades in the future.
Despite strings of 100-degree days in Kansas City, its lakes and ponds and streams have survived well so far.
Its a tough summer, said Bill Maasen, superintendant of parks for the Johnson County Park & Recreation District, but we havent had any major problems.
Matt Garrett, a field biologist for the department, said hes picked out some positive aspects. Im always looking for the silver lining.
The drought has killed invasive plants such as bush honeysuckle and a woody perennial called Sericea lespedeza, he said. It takes over prairies and open land and is unpalatable to wildlife. Sheep are the only thing that will eat it.
Maasen said the lower lake volume has helped concentrate fish for sport fishing.
Statewide, some smaller and shallower ponds and lakes have reported fish kills, a result of extensive heat robbing the water of the oxygen fish need to survive. Some state lakes were closed this summer because of algae growth.
At Lakewood, where the lake is fed primarily by rainfall, resident Leslie Thomas, 50, said the altered shoreline has provided an opportunity for some much-needed lake cleaning.
I feel its a good thing, she said, because we are actually going out and picking up beer cans that have been there for years. My husband and I dont know how much trash weve pulled out of it. Its been all full of yuck for some time.
The drought does not come without costs. Officials warn of rocks and stumps and other potential boating hazards just beneath lake surfaces.
At Clinton Reservoir, biologists note a reduced population of juvenile shad, a food source for other fish such as bass and crappie.
It means that sport fish are going to go into the winter in poorer condition than in normal years, said the lakes fisheries biologist, Richard Sanders. They wont be as big next year.
In general, the dry weather has hurt plants, meaning less food for deer and other animals now and this winter.
There is very little winter forage, Garrett said. You are going to see some stressed wildlife over the winter.
For now, however, Hugh Ryan would just like to see his boat up and out of the muck.
If there were something to be done, we would avail ourselves of that, he said. But Im not going to try to do a rain dance or anything else. Im afraid were getting into a climate change. I think were going to see this on and on.
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