State aids Kickapoo in search for water

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HORTON, Kan. - The Kansas Geological Survey made an emergency trip to the drought-stricken Kickapoo Reservation in an effort to locate water sources which might stave off a devastating blow to the. tribe's economic base.

The Golden Eagle Casino would have to close down as well as other businesses located on the reservation if no solution to the dwindling supply of water from the Delaware River is not found. It is estimated the water reserve is only two to four weeks.

Three crews of researchers from headquarters in Lawrence arrived at the Kickapoo Reservation June 5 and used seismic equipment to test for possible alternate water sources.

"We saw the newspaper reports about their situation. As we started talking about it in-house, we got a call from the Kansas Water Office in Topeka. So we immediately pulled our maps and began looking for sites," said Lee Allison, Survey director.

Although the Survey office believes prospects for ground water in the tribal area are limited, they did find an area with a thick deposit of glacial sediments where they believe an alternative water supply for the tribe could be found.

Crews started drilling test holes June 6. Three possible sites were found.

Nancy Bear, the Kickapoo acting vice chairwoman, said she was hopeful, but believed the small quantities of water will only help the tribe get past its current emergency and won't be the solution for long-term water supplies.

Allison agreed with Bear. "We are cautiously optimistic, but even if we can find a good water source, I think everyone realizes this is a temporary fix to get them through the summer. That should keep them going until a long-term solution is in place."

The tribe declared a state of emergency and sent a letter to President Bill Clinton June 1 asking for help. The tribe's Golden Eagle Casino uses bottled water as a stop-gap measure during the water shortage, but may end up closing its doors if the current situation worsens.

Other cities in northeast Kansas also are beginning to ask for drought relief from the state. Holton, located near the Potawatomi Reservation, began conservation efforts to stretch dwindling water supply.

Clark Duffy of the Kansas Water Office said he believes it is very possible that the entire northeastern section of Kansas may soon be declared a drought area. When certain criteria are met, state programs kick in to help residents living in drought areas, Duffy said.

Bear said that even if a useable water source were found, the tribe would have to have federal help to pay for wells and laying pipe. As of June 7, the tribe had received no word from the White House regarding its request for federal aid during the water crisis and was still waiting for final results on test drilling.

"All we can do now, is wait," Bear said.

While they wait, the Kickapoo are investigating every avenue, including the possibility of piping water in from surrounding communities.

"We have approached neighboring communities, but they are in the same boat we are, so they have a tendency to be a little stingy with their water supplies," she said. "You can't blame them, we don't know what the summer will hold."

The extended forecast for the Kickapoo area continues to be hot, dry and windy. for the next seven days.

The National Drought Mitigation Center, an information clearing house at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has ranked Kansas as one of 15 states with no long-term drought plan.

Mike Hayes, a climate expert at the center, said such plans allow for greater coordination among state agencies and allow them to respond more quickly.

Al LeDoux, director of the Kansas Water Office, acknowledged there is no statewide plan in writing, but said various state agencies have their own plans and those agencies work well together.

He said lack of federal funding has thwarted some long-term projects, such as a proposed watershed project on the Kickapoo Reservation. Congress hasn't provided money for the Pikitanoi Rural Water Project which would supply water to the reservation and several water districts in the northeastern part of the state.