Dry River Bed of the Arkansas River

Scott Flax

Dec. 2016

ES 555 Small-Format Aerial Photography

Changes in the surface water of the Arkansas River as currently observed, are significant as compared to the early 20th century in southwest Kansas. The river flows from the Rocky Mountains of Colorado to the Mississippi River. Depletion of the High Plains Aquifer is affected by an arid climate, water usage rights, agriculture, and upstream diversions of the river.

Arkansas River at Garden City between 1890-1900 during a wet period.
Wolf, H. L. (1890-1900). Arkansas River Bridge, Garden City, Finney County, Kansas [Photograph]. Kansas Memory, Kansas Historical Society, Topeka, KS.

Arkansas River Flooding at Cimarron, KS 1921
Arkansas River Flooding, Cimarron, Kansas [Photograph]. (1921, June 9). Kansas Memory, Kansas Historical Society, Topeka, KS.

Acquiring and Processing of the Imagery

Currently, the Arkansas River is dried up in this region of southwestern Kansas. The following high oblique views were taken in early October of 2016 at Fort Dodge near Dodge City, Kansas with the Fall 2016 Small Format Aerial Photography class at ESU. Due to the calmer wind conditions the class used a tethered helium blimp with attached camera rig. A close up view of the rig is shown here (Aber 2014). Wind speed becomes a problem over 15 km/h (10 mph). Higher wind speeds causes the light weight blimp to whip about erratically and makes it difficult to acquire desired images. The camera positioning is operated by remote control that allows panning or rotating on the horizontal axis and tilting from vertical to horizontal. The completed setup of the aerial platform is shown here.

Sun direction can be determined in photographs by shadows. Shadows point away from the direction of light. Shadows distiquish and provide visual details to subtle objects such as the power line poles in image 1. The following images were processed slightly in Adobe Photoshop, including rotating and darkening. Darkening increases the contrast of features, while aligning the horizon in the image, enhances image orientation for the observer.

Arkansas River at Fort Dodge Kansas, October, 2016
Image 1: High oblique view looking SW, upstream.

Arkansas River at Fort Dodge Kansas, October, 2016
Image 2: High oblique view looking SE, downstream.

Image 3: Close up image of dead trees suggest burning had occured.

Causes

Water conservation in this region is a concern. Ground water is not easily replenished in this region. The State of Kansas has recently completed and updated a water plan to manage water resources (2014 Kansas). In order to grow crops in southwestern Kansas, water needs to be pumped from underground aquifers, like the High Plains. The United States Geological Survey has stated a drop between 15.2 to 45.7 meters (50-150ft) from 1900 to 2008, decreasing at a faster rate in modern times (Groundwater 2016). Drought conditions can require even more water than normal and runoff from rainfall during droughts would never reach the river.

Marcia Schulmeister, ESU Earth Science Faculty, believes the Arkansas River is refilling the aquifer while decreasing its surface flow. Secondly, Colorado and Kansas have had a history of water rights disagreements with the Arkansas River. Water reservoirs in Colorado can block the flow of water down stream into Kansas. Colorado and Kansas struggle with conflicting interests on the diversion of water from the Arkansas River as evidenced by the Kansas-Colorado Arkansas River Compact. Water flow is also diverted upstream to aid in recreation, agriculture, and industrial activities in Colorado (Arkansas 2016). Many of these causes are magnified by increasing populations and the needs or wants that accompany them.

References

Aber, J. S., & Aber, S. W. (2014, January). Cameras and Rigs. Retrieved December 6, 2016, from http://www.geospectra.net/kite/equip/camera_rigs.htm

Arkansas River Compact. (2016, November 17). Retrieved November 20, 2016, from http://www.co-ks-arkansasrivercompactadmin.org/arkansas-river-compact.html

Arkansas River Flooding, Cimarron, Kansas [Photograph]. (1921, June 9). Kansas Memory, Kansas Historical Society, Topeka, KS.

Fact Sheet, Kansas-Colorado Arkansas River Compact. (n.d.). Retrieved December 6, 2016, from https://agriculture.ks.gov/docs/default-source/iwi---kansas-colorado-arkansas-river-compact/arkcompactfactsheet_2013-08-13.pdf?sfvrsn=4

Groundwater Depletion. (2016, October 27). Retrieved November 19, 2016, from http://water.usgs.gov/edu/gwdepletion.html

2014 Kansas Water Plan. (2015). Retrieved November 28, 2016, from http://www.kwo.org/Water-Plan.html

Wolf, H. L. (1890-1900). Arkansas River Bridge, Garden City, Finney County, Kansas [Photograph]. Kansas Memory, Kansas Historical Society, Topeka, KS.