Prolonged drought reduces flow of Arkansas River, increases vehicle and other activity
The prolonged drought has reduced the flow of many streams and rivers in Kansas, and the Arkansas River is one of the most notable victims.
In many places in central and western Kansas, the river is dry or has minimal flows or shallow pools. As a result, there has been increased vehicle and other activity along the river, leading to confusion and disputes about landowner rights and legal activity on the river. Local law enforcement agencies and the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism plan to patrol the more heavily used portions of the river, using all-terrain vehicles to watch for vehicle and wildlife violations and disorderly behavior.
Respecting property lines
There are more than 10,000 miles of streams and rivers in Kansas, and most stream and river beds are privately owned. The rivers in the public domain are the Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri rivers; however, most of the adjacent land is privately owned. Those rivers are open to the public only between the ordinary high water marks on each bank—the line where high water has left debris, sand, and gravel during its ordinary annual cycle. Fences, markings or signage are not required to define the property boundaries.
When those rivers flow through private property, permission is needed from adjacent landowners to access the rivers or to engage in any activity on the property above or beyond the ordinary high water marks. Violators can be cited for trespassing. In some places, the ordinary high water mark may be hard to distinguish, but in most areas, it is relatively clear. An apparent trail leading from the river onto private land does not give the public permission to use the trail or the land around it. If in doubt about the property line, err on the side of caution and confine activities to the river bed.
Responsible use of the river
People using the Arkansas River are subject to the same laws and regulations as on land, so operating a vehicle while intoxicated, reckless driving, disorderly conduct and other violations are prohibited. Also, destruction of certain wildlife habitat can be a violation, such as destroying beaver dams and lodges. Where there is some water flow, a beaver dam helps hold back the flow, creating vital habitat for other wildlife during a drought.
And, given the increased activity, consideration and respect for others will be necessary for everyone to enjoy the experience. Personal safety is also important, and proper protective gear should be worn at all times. While on the river, remember that emergency response time may be longer. Most cell phones have GPS capabilities that allow local dispatchers to locate a 911 call and send emergency personnel to the right location.
With the proper respect for property, other users and the river environment, everyone using the Arkansas River can enjoy a great outdoor experience. For information about the Sunflower State’s rivers and streams, visit www.ksoutdoors.com, then click on KDWPT Info – Locations – Rivers-and-Streams Access.