Kickapoo Tribe faces water crisis

HORTON, Kan. - Drought conditions in Northeastern Kansas are making spring look like late summer.

The grass in yards and pastures is dry and the ground already shows large cracks, grass crunches underfoot, but the Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas isn't concerned about how lawns look these days, they are worried about their very survival. With an existing water supply that is expected to run out in two weeks, the Kickapoo tribe is struggling to find a solution before businesses are forced to close because of the lack of water.

"We aren't talking about the quality of water, we are talking about the quantity of water. It could be in as little as two weeks, if we don't have any rain or some kind of relieve or alternative measure, we could be totally without water," Acting Vice Chairwoman Nancy Bear said.

"Look at our business enterprises, if we don't have water, we are going to be closing that casino down."

With drought conditions worsening, the possibility of major fires increases daily. Bear said a fire could deplete the water supply even sooner. A shortage in drinking water isn't the only problem, which residents of the Kickapoo Reservation may face. Without treated water; there will be no supply for washing, toilets or bathing.

"This is a dire situation," Bear said. A public notice on mandatory water conservation has gone out which requires all business and community members to start water conservation.

Swimming pools will not be filled and lawns are not to be watered. Area residents are prohibited from watering livestock using treated water from the local system.

"Right now we are hoping to God we don't have any emergencies," Bear said.

"We knew this was coming, it was just a matter of time."

Bear said that is why the tribe has been trying to get money for a feasibility study for the Pikitanoi Water Project. It is a joint effort between the Kickapoo Nation and local rural water districts to provide the area with a safe, dependable water source.

An emergency meeting was called May 23 to discuss the situation. Representatives from the Kansas governor's office, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Kansas Water Office attended.

Bear said the group discussed investigations into a solution for the current water shortage and long-term solutions. Another meeting was scheduled May 30, at which time, the tribe might ask for a declaration of a state of emergency, Bear said.

Since a federally recognized tribe is involved, Bear said they might declare both a state and federal emergency on the Kickapoo Reservation.

Clark Duffy from the Kansas Water Office agrees with Bear and believes that the tribe is going in the right direction. "I think we call all work together and with their leadership and our assistance to make sure that with the proper conservation there will be treated water supplies throughout the summer. One possibility, which has been brought up, is setting up an emergency pipeline to get water to the Horton area. Duffy said the state might be the ones who run that pipeline, but won't know until all options have been looked at. He also stated that many small communities in Kansas might be facing the same problem as the Kickapoo Tribe during the current drought conditions. Duffy attended the emergency meeting and is working with Kickapoo Tribal leaders to find a solution for both the long and short-term water shortages.

Northeastern Kansas had a dry, mild winter, with record high temperatures in many locations, followed by a hot dry spring. With no measurable spring rain and none in the near future forecast, the outlook for the Kickapoo water supply is bleak. Although conditions are predicted to improve by fall, Bear could only say, "Fall is a long time away! We've had ninety degree temperatures the last couple of days, look at the evaporation you get."

The tribe is currently pumping water out of nearby ponds for things like watering down softball fields and to water the track down for an upcoming demolition derby. "If we had a fire we would have to utilize treated water, if you have time you can draw it out of the pond and it isn't a big deal, but if an emergency comes and time is off the essence you have to use treated water." Bear said.

Bear believes that unless a dependable source of water is found for the tribe, there will be no economic growth and the tribe may lose the businesses it has now, the tribe is currently purchasing water for a new truck plaza on HWY 75 from an adjoining county. "We don't have the water for that. We are just at a stand still. We aren't just blowing smoke about the Pikitanoi Water Project. We can't grow anymore." Bear said, "We don't have a water supply."