Wichita maybe enjoying a wet spring, but beware if you’re heading to a local lake. Water conditions are low enough in many places to make for hazardous boating.
Still 6.6 feet below normal, Cheney Reservoir has more challenges than normal. El Dorado Reservoir could be flat-out dangerous.
“Even with the rain, we’ve come up a whopping 4/10ths of a foot this spring so we’re still about 4.4 feet low. It’s been a while since we’ve been this low this time of the year,” said Craig Johnson, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism fisheries biologist for El Dorado. “There are places where you can be a couple of hundred yards off shore and still only be in ankle-deep water. There are a lot of trees (near the surface) where I don’t remember seeing them in the past.”
Shane Eustice, who regularly boats and guides anglers at El Dorado, fears the timing for such low water could accentuate the problems.
“A lot of people are really going to be anxious this weekend to finally get out, and they’re just going to jump in their boat and go,” he said. “I’m afraid someone could really get hurt.”
Johnson told of someone who bought a new boat last Wednesday, then wrecked the lower part of the motor in a shallow area the next day at El Dorado. He’s surprised it hasn’t happened more often.
“I see a lot of people going fast in their bass boats, ripping across some of these (hazardous) areas,” he added. “They either know the lake really well, or they’ve just been really lucky.”
Eustice and Johnson say boaters should be careful around all points of land that jut out into the water. Often the water is only inches deep. It’s sometimes the same where old roadbeds go into the lake. Easily boated over a year ago, many areas now could struggle to float a canoe.
Both lake experts said the water several hundred yards off Bluestem and El Dorado Point areas will probably be too shallow for safe boating. Eustice spoke of a sizable island about 400 yards off Bluestem Point that’s so low many boaters may not see it. Even if they do, water on both sides of the island is probably too shallow for most boats.
“You just have to respect every point you go around,” he said. “People just won’t believe you may be 600 yards from shore and still not be in safe water.”
Other potential dangers are where timber was left standing along original river and creek banks when the lake was filled. Through the years many of the long-dead trees broke at various heights. Eustice said hidden trees that once let boaters pass over with no concerns could now lead to a damaged boat, or worse if people are thrown from boats that hit the obstacles at high rates of speed.
At Cheney Reservoir, fisheries biologist Jeff Koch said boaters don’t need to worry about striking flooded timber, but some of the areas close to shore could be too shallow for safe boating. “You just have to plan on staying several hundred yards off shore on the main lake, and if you get closer, do it slowly,” Koch said. “It’s way too shallow up north, but I can’t think of anything in the middle of the lake that could be a problem.”
Simply getting a boat launched on to Cheney could be the biggest problem. Koch said the only operational ramp is in the state park on the east side of the reservoir.
Two boat ramps, the west ramp in the Boulder Bluff area and another east of Shady Creek Marina, are closed at El Dorado. Johnson said boaters should show caution around some courtesy docks because of shallow water conditions.