The 10-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 prescribed in the contract is 2,288.5 feet. Once the lake is reduced to that level, no water releases will be allowed.
“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, in a statement.
Sebelius’ water levels have experienced substantial fluctuation since the lake was built in 1964.
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.
Maintaining some water in the lake will help its fish populations survive, and ensure that boat ramps and other access points 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, in a statement.