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Blue-green algae kills emergency plan

Staff writer

Kansas cattle ranchers gained access Thursday to state lakes and federal reservoirs for emergency water supplies, but for now Marion Reservoir, which remains under a blue-green algae advisory, is off-limits to Marion County producers.

“Our blue-green algae status is the No. 1 status we would consider,” Corps of Engineers lead ranger Emily Coffin said. “We don’t want livestock drinking contaminated water.”

Katie Patterson-Ingels, communications director of the Kansas Water Office, said state lakes with blue-green algae advisories would distribute water while warning ranchers of the risks, but the Corps of Engineers has a different standard.

“Until we are removed from advisory status, we wouldn’t issue a permit anyway,” Coffin said.

Water access is critical for Marion County, which has more beef cows, 25,500, than any other county in the state except Pottawatomie and Labette. Many area ranchers have been trucking in water and moving cattle from pastures to feedlots as water conditions have deteriorated.

“For the last two or three weeks, I’ve seen ponds starting to dry up,” Marion veterinarian Jessica Laurin said. “Usually the water quality gets poor in July and August.”

Laurin said she was aware of three ponds that tested positive for blue-green algae. Rising bacterial counts are common in drought conditions, she said.

The early onset of warm weather and subsequent drought forced cattle ranchers to adapt earlier, so the need for emergency access to lakes may not be great.

“At this time we’ve received one request,” Patterson-Ingels said. “This was actually triggered last year as well, and we didn’t receive very many.”

Livestock owners often use rural water districts as an alternative, Laurin said. The districts appear to be able to handle the load.

“We’re doing all right. We really haven’t had much of a problem,” said Kenneth Teetzen, vice president of Marion County Rural Water District. No. 1 that serves northwest Marion County. “Our pumps were running a lot of hours a day. We did mail a conservation letter to be conservative. Our water table is fine.

“In our area the livestock ponds have been dry since spring. People have been hauling water since the get-go.”

RWD No. 4, which extends west from Marion and the reservoir past Lehigh and Goessel, also is holding up well.

“We’re using more water than we usually do,” district operator Galen Penner said. “It just started early this year.

“We did have a booster pump that went down at the end of June, and it got a little critical, but we got it fixed. We’re maintaining our pressure. Our electric bill is up, but so are our water sales.”

Livestock farmers interested in the emergency water program should call the Kansas Water Office, (888) 526-9283.

Last modified Aug. 1, 2012

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