Nov. 13--TOPEKA -- Each day, the roughly 150 residents of Lakeside Village drink, cook and bathe with water hauled in by the Kansas National Guard.
Months after floodwaters overwhelmed the northeast Kansas community's well system, trucks are still delivering up to 40,000 gallons of water daily.
The new normal for Lakeside Village is just one snapshot of the lingering damage from floodwaters that rose across Kansas and the region earlier this year. The high water wrecked at least $15 million of infrastructure and generated $3.8 million in federal flood insurance claims.
Lawmakers huddled at the Capitol on Tuesday to hear from state and federal officials about the floods. The message: be ready for more.
Excess water that hasn't evaporated, combined with heavier snowfalls and early storms, could set the conditions for a 2020 with more flooding, said Kansas Adjutant General Lee Tafanelli.
Scientists say climate change has fueled at least some extreme weather across the United States. Although it is difficult to attribute any single weather event to climate change, the Union of Concerned Scientists said last year that projected increases in precipitation "suggest that flooding will also increase in frequency and intensity."
"Are we seeing things differently than maybe we have in the past? ... We think we are," Earl Lewis, acting director of the Kansas Water Office, told lawmakers. He didn't directly attribute the more frequent floods to climate change.
Chad Omitt, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Topeka, said it's difficult to say with certainty whether Kansas can expect similar flooding again in the coming years. But he stressed the need to be ready.
"This is a land of extremes," he said.
This year's floods were driven by a one-two combination: a March "bomb cyclone" (a storm that quickly grows) that rapidly melted snow and the wettest May in recorded Kansas history.
Areas that typically receive 4 or 5 inches of rain were drenched with 20 inches or more that month, driving more than 90 percent of the state's monitored rivers above flood stage at some point.
Floodwaters damaged 11 dams in Kansas, most of them in the east. A private dam in Wabaunsee County was breached. Authorities performed a controlled breach in Nemaha County near Sabetha. The Kansas Department of Agriculture described the Twin Caney Creek dam in Montgomery County as "severely damaged."
Wastewater treatment facilities struggled to keep up. Some 1.3 billion gallons of sewage flowed into Kansas rivers and streams in May, according to the state Department of Health and Environment. That's enough water to fill more than 20,000,000 bathtubs.
The damage to public infrastructure adds up to more than $15 million, according to preliminary estimates. While the figure doesn't count private losses--homes, businesses and farms-- federal flood insurance claims have totaled $3.8 million in Kansas this year.
Line breaks, water pressure loss and inundated wells prompted officials to issue 14 advisories to residents across the state urging them to boil water.
Near Perry Lake, northwest of Lawrence, three communities had to find alternative water suppliers. One of them, Lakeside Village, continues to have water hauled in.
Jerry White, president of the village board, said residents have been encouraged to conserve as much as possible. Water still comes out of the tap, but only because the National Guard brings in a fresh supply each day.
White said there are "different stories" for how long it will take before Lakeside Village has its own well water back. By year's end is a possibility.
A line is being put in place to allow Lakeside Village to hook into another water district in case of a future failure.
"We had a flood back in '93, but it wasn't quite this bad," said White, who's lived at Lakeside Village since 1992.
Since 1901, annual average precipitation in the United States has increased by 4 percent, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment. The frequency and intensity of heavy rain is projected to continue increasing over the next century. Extreme rainstorms once expected every 25 years may occur every 10 or five years.
"It's not just that, 'Oh, it's going to be wetter, or it's going to be dryer.' But it's that the rain that does arrive is going to be arriving at different times in the year and at different intensities," Anna Weber, a senior policy analyst at the National Resources Defense Council, said.
As state and local governments work to mitigate the effects of climate change, they need to examine whether their infrastructure is built to handle a more punishing weather, according to Weber.
Land use also has a significant effect on flooding. In places with expanding development, as the amount of paved land increases, the land available to absorb rainwater decreases -- forcing water into stormwater systems or streams that may not be able to handle increased loads.
"The intersection of rainfall, infrastructure and land use has a big effect on the flooding that we're seeing," Weber said.
Senate Vice President Jeff Longbine, an Emporia Republican, chaired a special committee that examined the Kansas floods on Tuesday. Research is showing more frequent flooding, he said, adding that over the last few years the duration of floods have lengthened, causing more damage.
But even as the scientific evidence mounts, Longbine said "I don't think we know" when asked whether the floods are a consequence of climate change.
"We can often go from extremely rainy seasons to extreme drought very quickly. So it's a matter of determining if there is anything we can do," Longbine said. "We can't legislate Mother Nature, but what we can do is be better prepared for the extremes."
But Rep. Annie Kuether, a Topeka Democrat, said climate change "absolutely" plays a role.
"I certainly believe in climate change," Kuether said. "And I think we're going to be dealing with a whole lot more of this."
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