Grab all the fish you want while they’re still alive — this Kansas lake is drying up

There’s a temporary free-for-all at Ellis City Lake, where the same hideous drought that’s killing western Kansas crops is poised to kill the fish. So many of the usual limits on fishing have been lifted to harvest fish before they die.

by Celia Llopis-Jepsen, KCUR and Kansas News Service

Grab the fish at Ellis City Lake by net, by hand — whatever. Just take as many as you want.

They will die anyway, the state fears.

So on Tuesday, Kansas suspended catch limits and size rules for pulling catfish, crappies, bass, bluegills and any other fish you find in the rapidly dwindling reservoir about 15 miles west of Hays.

It’s called a public fish salvage, and it took effect immediately.

“You just as well take what you can get,” said Bryan Sowards, director of the fisheries division at the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. When the lake finally recovers, whenever that is, “we’re pretty much going to restart at that point with new stocking from our hatcheries.”

The same hideous drought that’s baking farmland across western Kansas has the Big Creek flowing so low that Ellis City Lake — which normally covers about 30 acres — can’t get the water recharge it needs.

“Continued dry weather may lead to significant fish losses in the near future,” the department announced. “The public may collect any remaining fish in the designated waterbody by any legal methods, as well as by hand, dip net, or seine.”

The temporary free-for-all applies until officials pull down signs about the public fish salvage that they’ve posted around the water.

The same rules apply to Warren Stone Memorial Lake, a much smaller body (2 acres) about half an hour south of Hays. But Sowards says this tiny lake dries up “all the time.”

A bigger pool like the Ellis City reservoir doesn’t dry up as easily, but it happens. Sowards estimates bad-enough droughts strike more than once per decade. The severe drought that struck Kansas a decade ago was particularly rough.

“It’s not nearly as bad as it was then,” he said.

When water gets too low, as at the two lakes right now, fish burn through the remaining oxygen fast and start dying.

Some fish may survive, Sowards said, “but you’ll have enough die to where you’d rather have the public (get) in there to harvest them.”

Problems can also happen when heat and dwindling lake levels lead to fish getting caught between two unlivable layers of water.

“Fish are ‘squeezed,’” said Ted Harris, a research professor at the Kansas Biological Survey and Center for Ecological Research at the University of Kansas, “between really hot water (at the surface) and water without oxygen (at the bottom).”

Earlier this month, the National Weather Service said Hays was experiencing its 11th driest summer.

The drought has stunted and shriveled crops across western Kansas, contributing to the current steep prices for corn and forcing cattle and ethanol companies to haul grain by rail from places like Iowa, Illinois and Ohio.

The National Drought Mitigation Center predicts that the dry conditions afflicting the region will continue through the end of the year.

Sowards said Kansas also sometimes announces public fish salvages when the state plans renovations or other maintenance that require lowering the water levels. Sometimes the state does that to clear out invasive species, such as non-native common carp that wreak havoc on aquatic ecosystems.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen covers the environment for the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @celia_LJ or email her at celia (at) kcur (dot) org.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

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Rep. Davids, Torres-Small announce up to $45 million to dairy farming climate initiatives

Rep. Sharice Davids and Under Secretary Xochitl Torres Small received a briefing from Dairy Farmers of America Friday in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo from Rep. Davids’ office)

U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids joined Xochitl Torres Small, U.S. Department of Agriculture under secretary for rural development, to announce USDA has awarded up to $45 million to Dairy Farmers of America.

Headquartered in Kansas City, Kansas, DFA will use this funding to implement a new, climate-smart initiative to help Kansas farmers and consumers reduce emissions and access sustainably produced dairy products.

“Farmers and ranchers are among those most affected by floods, droughts, or heat waves, which have all become more severe due to climate change,” Rep. Davids said Friday at the announcement. “This new funding for Dairy Farmers of America will not only help produce dairy products in a climate-friendly manner, but also open new markets for Kansas producers to ensure we can feed the world for generations to come.”

“Hardworking dairy farmers are vital to our food security and our nation’s security when it comes to tackling climate change,” said USDA Under Secretary Xochitl Torres Small. “That’s why President Biden, Vice President Harris and Agriculture Secretary Vilsack are investing in projects that will expand markets for climate-smart commodities. USDA is proud to partner with Dairy Farmers of America and Congresswoman Davids to be there for dairy farmers who want to develop and sell low-carbon milk products.”

“Dairy farmers have been working on continuous improvement of the environment long before it became a concern for others. It’s how farmers think, and it is core to who we are,” said Randy Mooney, a dairy farmer and chairman of DFA’s Board of Directors. “I am proud to be part of a Cooperative that adds value to its member-owners by making the adoption of sustainability practices more accessible, which will ultimately help evolve the development of low-carbon dairy products that consumers are demanding. We look forward to working with USDA, Undersecretary Torres Small and Rep. Davids, the newest member of the House Agriculture Committee, on this and other initiatives that support America’s dairy farmers and the rural communities in which we live and work.”

This new DFA project aims to lower global carbon emissions of the dairy market by decreasing individual, on-farm greenhouse gases. Through collaboration with additional business partners, DFA will work to ensure the financial benefits of climate-smart farming are felt by the local farmers and ranchers, establishing a powerful, self-sustaining, green economy benefiting U.S. agriculture, including underserved producers.

Last week, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced USDA is investing up to $2.8 billion in 70 selected projects, including DFA’s project announced today, under the first pool of the Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities funding opportunity. This effort will expand markets for America’s climate-smart commodities, leverage the greenhouse gas benefits of climate-smart commodity production, and provide direct, meaningful benefits to production agriculture, including for small and underserved producers.

Rep. Davids, who was recently named a “Friend of the Farm Bureau,” is the newest member of the House Agricultural Committee which oversees USDA and has jurisdiction over all aspects of agriculture, forestry, nutrition, water conservation, and other agriculture-related fields. Rep. Davids, 3rd District, serves on the committee alongside Rep. Tracey Mann, 1st District, as they prepare to consider the 2023 Farm Bill, a package of legislation passed about every five years that includes several critically important agriculture, conservation, nutrition, and trade programs.

  • Story from Rep. Davids’ office

St. Paul’s Church to focus on environmental responsibility

by Murrel Bland

The clergyman practices what he preaches.

Simply stated, that describes the practices of the Rev. Evan Ash, an assisting priest at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Kansas City, Kansas. Father Evan heads up the Creation Care effort for the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas. Creation Care is an initiative of the national Episcopal Church.

The Rev. Evan Ash

Father Evan has some practical suggestions people can do to be better stewards of the environment.

• Buy things in paper instead of plastic packaging.
• Buy locally grown foods; this takes less transportation and thus less pollution.
• Take your own bags to the store, thus reducing the use of paper and plastic bags.
• Reduce travel time; use gasoline with ethanol.
• Buy clothes made of natural fabrics such as cotton and linen; this reduces the use of synthetics.
• Use distilled water made at home instead of buying it in plastic bottles.
• Set your thermostat at 78 degrees to reduce use.
• Buy high efficiency replacement heating and cooling units and appliances.
• Use solar-power attic fans.
• Take the advice of the National Wildlife Federation to support a backyard that is friendly toward wildlife.
• Plant shade trees to save on energy costs.
• Use a book of daily devotions to remind us of our connection to God.

As part of his effort to support the Creation Care effort, Father Evan will lead an outdoor service at 10 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 2, at Lavender Hill Farm, 112 N. 63rd St., in the Muncie community of Kansas City, Kansas. The farm is just south of 63rd Street and Riverview Avenue. The public is invited and refreshments will be served after the service. Dress will be casual.

Joe III and Jenny Steineger are the owners of Lavender Hill Farm.

The farm is owned and operated by Joe Steineger III and his wife Jenny. Joe is a third generation Wyandotte County farmer; the Steinegers are longtime members of St. Paul’s parish.

For more information about Creation Care check out the following links or

For more information, telephone Father Evan Ash at 913-244-0772.

Murrel Bland is the former editor of the Wyandotte West.