USGS News

How Much Water Does Kansas Use?

Summary: Water use in Kansas is increasing, mostly due to dry periods and climate variability, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey fact sheet on public-supply water use from 1990 - 2012 in Kansas. Planning for the Future Requires Looking at the Past

Contact Information:

Joan F. Kenny ( Phone: 785-842-9909 ); Jennifer LaVista ( Phone: 303-202-4764 );



Water use in Kansas is increasing, mostly due to dry periods and climate variability, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey fact sheet on public-supply water use from 1990 - 2012 in Kansas.

About 95 percent of Kansans depend on water provided by public suppliers such as cities, towns, rural water districts or mobile home parks. Currently, about 60 percent of this water is obtained from streams, reservoirs and lakes; the remainder is groundwater.

Public water supply withdrawals from 1990 – 2012 ranged from a low of 121 billion gallons in 1993, when average precipitation was almost 40 inches, to a high of 159 billion gallons in 2012, when average precipitation was less than 20 inches. The average amount of water each person uses per day is about 2.5 times greater in western Kansas (274 gallons) then in eastern Kansas (98 gallons). Water use tends to increase from eastern to western Kansas because of differences in precipitation.  The new fact sheet was created in cooperation with the Kansas Department of Agriculture, Division of Water Resources (DWR).

“Water is so important to the everyday life of Kansans,” said Lane Letourneau, Water Appropriations Program Manager at the Kansas Department of Agriculture, Division of Water Resources. “Accurate water use information is essential for the state to manage the resource wisely and to use when we look out to the next 50 years to ensure we have a long term, reliable water supply.” 

Differences in annual withdrawals were primarily associated with climatic fluctuations. State population also increased steadily from 2.5 million people in 1990 to 2.9 million in 2012. Most of the population relies on public water supply; the remainder receives their water from other sources, such as private wells.

Water diverted for public supply represents about 10 percent of total reported water use in Kansas. Other major uses include irrigation, industrial, livestock watering and power generation. The DWR or the Kansas Water Office (KWO) regulates all diver­sions of water for public supply on non-federal lands within Kansas. The amount of allotted surface water obtained through the KWO from federal reservoirs increased from about three billion gallons in 1990 to more than seven billion gallons in 2011 and 2012.  

“Water in the federal reservoirs owned by the state and used under contract is a key component of keeping our municipal and industrial customers economically viable,” said Tracy Streeter, Kansas Water Office Director. “Understanding when as well as how the water is used is valuable information for assuring the resource is used wisely and the storage space is protected.”

More than half of the total water was diverted for public supply in 2012, and nearly three-quarters of the total surface water was treated and distributed by six major water suppliers in the most populous areas of the state: WaterOne (Johnson County), Wichita, Kansas City, Topeka, Olathe and Lawrence. 

For more information on USGS water studies in Kansas, visit the USGS Kansas Water Science Center’s web page

Climate Change Could Affect Future of Lake Michigan Basin

Summary: Climate change could lengthen the growing season, make soil drier and decrease winter snowpack in the Lake Michigan Basin by the turn of the century, among other hydrological effects

Contact Information:

Marisa Lubeck ( Phone: 303-202-4765 );



Climate change could lengthen the growing season, make soil drier and decrease winter snowpack in the Lake Michigan Basin by the turn of the century, among other hydrological effects.

A new U.S. Geological Survey precipitation and runoff model shows that by 2100, maximum daily temperature in the Lake Michigan Basin could increase by as much as seven degrees Fahrenheit, and the minimum daily temperature by as much as eight degrees. A new USGS report published today summarizes the potential hydrological effects of these increases on the basin through 2099. The tools can aid restoration efforts in the basin. 

“Warming climate in the Lake Michigan Basin could affect agriculture and crops, recreation, flood and drought risks and ecological processes like fish spawning,” said Daniel Christiansen, a USGS scientist and the lead author of the study. “Our model can help guide water management and restoration decisions related to climate change for the basin.” 

Air temperature increases in the Lake Michigan Basin, which includes western and northern Michigan, eastern Wisconsin, northern Indiana and northeastern Illinois, could have numerous effects on water, including: 

  • Longer growing seasons in the basin would increase evapotranspiration, or the process by which water is transferred from the land to the atmosphere by evaporation from the soil and other surfaces, and by transpiration from plants. This increasing loss of water could make the soil drier, affecting, for example, aquatic ecosystems of wetlands.
  • Annual monthly streamflow in the northern regions of the basin, including northern Michigan and northeastern Wisconsin, may become higher in the winter and lower in the spring, especially during April. Warmer winters in the basin could result in increased winter snowmelt and less accumulated snowpack, causing more winter flooding and drier springs.
  • In general, most of the study sites may experience increases in annual streamflow. 
  • The effects of climate change may likely be more extreme in the northern regions of the basin. 

The models used in the study were based on streamflow, evapotranspiration and sun energy data from 148 USGS streamgages and 157 NOAA-National Weather Service climate stations throughout the Lake Michigan Basin from 1977 through 2099. 

The USGS Iowa Water Science Center and USGS Wisconsin Water Science Center conducted this study as part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

New Volume Documents the Science at the Legendary Snowmastodon Fossil Site in Colorado

Summary: Four years ago, a bulldozer operator turned over some bones during construction at Ziegler Reservoir near Snowmass Village, Colorado. Scientists from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science were called to the scene and confirmed the bones were those of a juvenile Columbian mammoth, setting off a frenzy of excavation, scientific analysis, and international media attention

Contact Information:

Heidi  Koontz ( Phone: 303-202-4763 ); Maura O’Neal ( Phone: 303.370.6407 ); Randall Kremer ( Phone: 202-633-2950 );



DENVER — Four years ago, a bulldozer operator turned over some bones during construction at Ziegler Reservoir near Snowmass Village, Colorado. Scientists from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science were called to the scene and confirmed the bones were those of a juvenile Columbian mammoth, setting off a frenzy of excavation, scientific analysis, and international media attention. This dramatic and unexpected discovery culminates this month with the publication of the Snowmastodon Project Science Volume in the international journal Quaternary Research.  

Fourteen papers by 47 authors from the United States and abroad collectively represent “a new benchmark for understanding climate change in the American West,” said paleontologist Dr. Ian Miller, Snowmastodon Project co-leader and chair of the Museum’s Earth Sciences Department.

Project co-leader and former DMNS chief curator, Dr. Kirk Johnson, and several scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and academic institutions around the world contributed articles to the journal.  

“Nothing beats pulling fossils out of the ground,” said project scientist Dr. Jeff Pigati of the U.S. Geological Survey, “but the site also lets us see what the Colorado Rockies were like during a period of time that we simply couldn’t reach before the discovery.”  

The Snowmastodon site was an ancient lake that filled with sediment between 140,000 and 55,000 years ago preserving a series of Ice Age fossil ecosystems. Particularly fortuitous is the high-elevation locale, providing first-time documentation of alpine ecosystems during the last interglacial period between about 130,000 and 110,000 years ago. Because scientists were able to collect and study such a wide range of fauna and flora—from tiny specks of pollen to the bones of giant mastodons—the site emerged as a trove of information that Miller said will inspire future research for years to come.  

"This project was unprecedented in its size, speed, and depth of collaboration. The science volume now moves beyond the pure excitement of the discovery to the presentation of its hard science and its implications for understanding the biological and climate history of the Rocky Mountain region," said Johnson, now the Sant Director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.  

Papers in the special edition focus on impacts of climate change, then and now. The site’s ecosystems—plants, insects, and animals combined—varied dramatically in response to climate change.

“In other words, turn the climate dial a little and the ecosystems change considerably. We were also surprised to find that certain periods in the record that seem to be cool elsewhere in North America were quite warm in the central Rockies,” said Miller. ”The implication is that alpine ecosystems respond differently to climate change than other, lower elevation ecosystems. These new results have huge implications for predicting present-day climate change in Colorado and beyond.”

Usually fossil sites preserve only snapshots in time, which are then pieced together to understand past time periods. By contrast, the Snowmastodon site captures a nearly continuous 85,000-year time span. As a result, the site provides the best-known record of life and climate at high elevation anywhere in North America.  

During a total of 69 days in 2010 and 2011, the Museum mobilized one of the largest fossil excavation efforts ever, recovering more than 5,000 large bones and 22,000 small bones representing roughly 50 different species. The site is most notable for containing the remains of at least 35 American mastodons, representing both genders as well as a variety of ages, from calves to full-grown adults.  

“We had no idea that the high Rockies were filled with American mastodons during the last interglacial period,” Miller noted.  

While the spectacular array of Ice Age animals initially drew scientists to the site, the opportunity to understand the world that they inhabited proved to be a powerful draw as well. “Scientists from around the world donated countless hours and resources toward the project,” said Pigati. “For so many of them to come together and reconstruct a world that no longer exists in such incredible detail, well that’s just a dream come true.”  

About the Denver Museum of Nature & Science

 The Denver Museum of Nature & Science is the Rocky Mountain Region’s leading resource for informal science education. Our mission is to be a catalyst and ignite the community’s passion for nature and science. The Museum envisions an empowered community that loves, understands, and protects our natural world. As such, a variety of engaging exhibits, discussions, and activities help Museum visitors celebrate and understand the wonders of Colorado, Earth, and the universe. The Museum is located at 2001 Colorado Blvd., Denver, CO, 80205. To learn more about the Museum, visit dmns.org or call 303-370-6000. Many of the Museum’s educational programs and exhibits are made possible in part by the citizens of the seven-county metro area through the Scientific & Cultural Facilities District. Connect with the Museum on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. 

Additional Information

Data Show Northern Idaho Superfund Cleanup is Improving Water Quality

Summary: USGS hydrologist Greg Clark measures streamflow on Government Gulch Creek, a tributarty to the Coeur d'Alene River in northern Idaho. Streamflow data collected are included in the Coeur d'Alene Basin Environmental Monitoring Program the USGS conducts in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency. (High resolution image) The South Fork Coeur d'Alene River near Kellogg, Idaho has been impacted by historical mining activites. Since 2004, the USGS, in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency, has maintained a water-quality monitoring program in the Coeur d'Alene and Spokane River basins of northern Idaho and eastern Washington. (High resolution image) COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho —A new report published by the U.S. Geological Survey shows that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-led efforts to clean up historical mining contamination in the Coeur d’Alene and Spokane River basins are improving water quality. Concentrations of three trace metals of concern—cadmium, lead and zinc—have been significantly reduced since cleanup activities began in the 1990s. 

Contact Information:

Tim  Merrick ( Phone: 208-387-1305 ); Greg Clark ( Phone: 208-387-1324 ); Ryan  McClymont ( Phone: 503-251-3237 );



USGS hydrologist Greg Clark measures streamflow on Government Gulch Creek, a tributarty to the Coeur d'Alene River in northern Idaho. Streamflow data collected are included in the Coeur d'Alene Basin Environmental Monitoring Program the USGS conducts in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency. (High resolution image) The South Fork Coeur d'Alene River near Kellogg, Idaho has been impacted by historical mining activites. Since 2004, the USGS, in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency, has maintained a water-quality monitoring program in the Coeur d'Alene and Spokane River basins of northern Idaho and eastern Washington. (High resolution image)

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho —A new report published by the U.S. Geological Survey shows that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-led efforts to clean up historical mining contamination in the Coeur d’Alene and Spokane River basins are improving water quality. Concentrations of three trace metals of concern—cadmium, lead and zinc—have been significantly reduced since cleanup activities began in the 1990s. 

From the late 19th century through 1987, more than 130 million tons of lead, zinc and silver sulfide ores were mined from the Coeur d’Alene mining district. Ore processing often included dumping large amounts of metal-rich tailings into and along area streams that then transported those metals downstream.

In 2004, the USGS, in cooperation with the EPA, established a water-quality monitoring network totaling 18 sites from Mullan to Post Falls, Idaho. USGS hydrologist Greg Clark analyzed water-quality data collected from October 2009 through September 2013. Clark also examined data dating back to the early 1990s to look for any long-term trends. Results of those analyses include:

  • Concentrations of cadmium, lead and zinc have decreased significantly in streams throughout the Coeur d’Alene and Spokane River basins since the early 1990s. In the South Fork Coeur d’Alene River near Pinehurst, the concentrations of each of the three metals decreased by about 65 percent between 1992 and 2013. In most streams, however, concentrations of cadmium and zinc continue to exceed water-quality criteria established to protect aquatic organisms from toxic exposure to these metals.
  • The rate of decrease in metal concentrations in streams has slowed since 2003. Continued decreases will require a reduction in the contributions of metals to the South Fork Coeur d’Alene River from Canyon and Ninemile Creeks and from groundwater underlying the Central Impoundment Area near Kellogg, Idaho. The EPA is implementing remedial actions in these locations.
  • Coeur d’Alene Lake continues to receive large amounts of metals from upstream sources. From 2009 through 2013, the lake received an annual average of nearly 5 tons of cadmium, 400 tons of lead and 700 tons of zinc, about 99 percent of which were delivered from the Coeur d’Alene River. Of these totals, about 1.5 tons of cadmium, 380 tons of lead and 350 tons of zinc settled in the lake; the remainder flowed out of the lake to the Spokane River.

“This is good news for the people of the basin,” said Rick Albright, EPA Superfund cleanup director in Seattle. “We still have a long way to go in our cleanup efforts, but it’s nice to have scientific confirmation that we’ve made solid, measurable progress in reducing metal loads and improving area water quality. The USGS report underscores that we’re on our way to celebrating the basin’s recovery and ensuring that it remains a beautiful, healthy place to live, work and play.”

Review of Minimum and Maximum Conservation Buffer Distance Estimates for Greater Sage-Grouse and Land-Use Activities

Summary: The U.S. Geological Survey released a report today that compiles and summarizes published scientific studies that evaluate effective conservation buffer distances from human activities and infrastructure that influence greater sage-grouse populations

Contact Information:

A.B.  Wade ( Phone: 703-648-4483 ); Carol Schuler ( Phone: 541-750-1031 );



The full report is available online.

The U.S. Geological Survey released a report today that compiles and summarizes published scientific studies that evaluate effective conservation buffer distances from human activities and infrastructure that influence greater sage-grouse populations.

Greater sage-grouse conservation buffers are specified protective distances around greater sage-grouse communal breeding locations, known as leks.

The report, prepared at the request of the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, can help decision makers establish buffer distances for use in conservation measures for greater sage-grouse habitat.  BLM requested the report because across the 11-state range of the greater sage-grouse a wide variety of buffer distances and supporting scientific literature have been posed as appropriate for providing protections for the species.

“This report should help DOI and others as they make or refine decisions and implement conservation actions for this species,” said Carol Schuler, USGS senior science advisor for ecosystems.

USGS scientists reviewed, compiled and summarized the findings of numerous previously published USGS and non-USGS scientific studies that evaluated the influence of human activities and infrastructure on greater sage-grouse populations. The report is organized into six sections representing these different land uses or human activities typically found in land-use plans:

  • cumulative surface disturbances;
  • linear features such as active roads and highways and pipelines;
  • oil, gas, wind and solar energy development;
  • tall structures such as electrical, communication and meteorological towers;
  • low structures such as fences and buildings; and
  • activities that don’t involve habitat loss, such as noise and related disruptions. 

The buffer distances in the report reflect a radius around lek locations. Although lek sites are breeding habitats, the report’s authors emphasized that designating protective buffers around these area offer “a consistent and practical solution for identifying and conserving seasonal habitat requirements by greater sage-grouse throughout their life cycle.”

The authors noted that because of variation in populations, habitats, development patterns, social context, and other factors that for a particular disturbance type there is no single number that is an appropriate buffer distance for all populations and habitats across the greater sage-grouse range.

The buffer distance estimates in this report can be useful in developing conservation measures,” said Schuler, “but should be used in conjunction with conservation planning that considers other factors such as local and regional conditions, habitat quality, and the cumulative impact of a suite of conservation and management actions.”

The report shows lek buffer minimum and maximum distance estimates suggested in the scientific literature as well as possible minimum and maximum conservation buffer distances developed by the team of expert scientists who reviewed and synthesized the literature.

The scientific literature indicates that, in some populations, 90-95 percent of sage-grouse movements are within 5 miles (8 km) of lek sites, and that most females nest within about 3.1 miles (5 km) of the lek, suggesting considerable protection of sage-grouse could be achieved using protective measures within these generalized conservation buffer distances.  Consequently, the ranges USGS experts assessed for lower and upper buffer distance limits fall within the 3.1-5 mile radius of leks for surface disturbance, linear features, and energy development categories. The buffer distances suggested for the other 3 categories are smaller.

Greater sage-grouse occur in parts of 11 U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces in western North America.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is formally reviewing the status of greater sage-grouse to determine if the species is warranted for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Loon Migration Underway, Prompted by Frigid Temperatures

Summary: As freezing air swept into the Upper Midwest this past week, juvenile common loons took a cue from the weather and began their migrations to the warm Gulf of Mexico Follow the Birds Online

Contact Information:

Kevin Kenow ( Phone: 608-781-6278 ); Randy Hines ( Phone: 608-781-6398 ); Marisa Lubeck ( Phone: 303-202-4765 );



As freezing air swept into the Upper Midwest this past week, juvenile common loons took a cue from the weather and began their migrations to the warm Gulf of Mexico. 

By this past Monday, eight young loons, recently tagged by the U.S. Geological Survey and partners, had reached the Gulf of Mexico from the midwestern United States, and eight were en route to southern wintering areas. The scientists captured and radiomarked the juvenile common loons on lakes scattered across Minnesota and Wisconsin during the last two weeks of August 2014 to study the challenges facing these birds during their first two years, when they are most vulnerable.

“Midwest loons are susceptible to avian botulism in the Great Lakes and pollution found in U.S. waters during migration and overwintering,” said Kevin Kenow, USGS lead scientist for the study. “Resource managers need information on the iconic birds’ first critical years to develop effective conservation strategies.” 

Common loons are large, black-and-white, fish-eating waterbirds with haunting calls and are bioindicators, or living gages of ecosystem health, in the Great Lakes states. The survival rate of loons during their first few years of life – about 50 percent over three years – is much lower than that of adults, which have a rate of about 93 percent annually.

“Satellite transmitter and geolocator tag technologies help us learn more about the movements, habitat use and causes of mortality of young common loons, and ultimately about the health of the overall food web,” Kenow said. 

The tracking devices record daily location, temperature, light levels and pressure data used to log the foraging depths of these diving birds.

Previous band recovery data suggested that while some common loons may remain on wintering grounds year-round their first two years, there is the potential for a northward movement up the Atlantic Coast during summers. Watch where the new loons travel this year via the USGS common loon migration website.

For more information on USGS loon studies, please visit the USGS Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center website.

VideoUnraveling Mysteries of the Common Loon