Kansas Water, Ag Department and K-State Research and Extension Team Up for Meetings
DESOTO, Kan. – Like all residents, Pam Fortun cares about clean water coming out of the faucet. As a civil engineer with the fast-growing City of Overland Park, however, designing systems to avoid flash flooding, ensuring water quantity and quality, and minimizing runoff from new neighborhoods are also priorities for her.
Fortun attended a public outreach meeting in Desoto, Kansas set up by the Kansas Water Office recently.
The meeting was one of 26 hosted in March by the Kansas Water Vision Team, comprised of representatives of the KWO and the Kansas Department of Agriculture. In a quest to develop a long-term vision for the Kansas water supply, the team collaborated with K-State Research and Extension as they crisscrossed the state to gather opinions at the meetings.
The events were a step in a process started two years ago when Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback issued a call to action for a vision that ensures Kansas water priorities meet the state’s current and future needs. As part of the process, 14 planning areas were established to assess resources and challenges from a local perspective. Citizens from each planning area were identified through a public nomination process and selected by the Kansas Water Authority. The teams sought input from others in their individual regions, developed draft goals based on the input and available resource condition information, and presented the proposed goals to the KWA.
The KWA, a part of the Kansas Water Office, is comprised of 13 people appointed by the governor or state legislative leadership. They advise the governor, legislature and KWO on water policy issues and are responsible for approving the Kansas Water Plan, federal contracts and legislation proposed by the KWO.
“We want to make sure we have the water supply, not only for today but for future generations,” said Earl Lewis, assistant director of the KWO at the Desoto meeting. He said one of the primary problems across the state are nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphorus, and sediment in the water. Sediment reduces the amount of water a pond or lake can hold and is where higher concentrations of nutrients are usually found. That can lead to excessive algae, scum, odor and taste problems, and can sicken and kill fish and other aquatic life.
Kansas River region supports growing population
The Kansas River cuts through northeast Kansas, home to some of the most populated counties in the state, including Riley, Shawnee, Douglas, Wyandotte and Johnson counties.
“Almost 40 percent of the population of Kansas lives (in close proximity to) the Kansas River,” Lewis told attendees at the March 9 Desoto meeting and the population is expected to increase.
Donald Kaiser, a retired engineer who attended the Desoto meeting said, “What happens in western Kansas affects everyone here and vice versa.”
Citizens’ suggestions coming out of the meeting included that water is undervalued and that landowners who build wells and irrigate should pay for the water they use. One participant said that using water from a well has an impact on water availability for others in the area. Other suggestions included the need for more public education about water issues, including how much it takes to grow the food supply and greater flexibility to use recycled water from operations such as wastewater treatment plants.
Nick Guetterman, who farms 12,000 acres with his father and brothers in Johnson and Miami counties, said their biggest water challenge is timely rainfall.
“Our shallow claypan soils are unforgiving. We’re either three days away from a flood or 10 days away from a drought,” said Guetterman, who serves as a planning team member for the Kansas River area. The family grows corn, soybeans and wheat and have a beef cattle operation.
One way they retain moisture in their farm’s soil, he said, is by not tilling: “Since 1990, we’ve been 100 percent no-till.”
Guetterman said water policy can encourage better stewardship of the land which could reduce runoff into streams and rivers.
“I think the biggest water issues we face are quality related, not quantity,” said Rick Miller, agriculture agent with the K-State Research and Extension Johnson County office. With the rivers that run through that part of the state, coupled with rainfall and other surface water, there is usually an adequate supply. “The issue is keeping pollutants out of the water like sediment and fertilizers,” he said.
Miller, a facilitator at the Desoto meeting, said he and K-State colleague Dennis Patton work with Johnson County stormwater and Hillsdale Lake officials on public education about those issues. Patton, an extension horticulture agent, does public education on best management practices for homeowners such as sweeping sidewalks so fertilizer is not washed down storm drains and grass clippings stay on the yard.
“We have secured funding for free soil testing so farmers and homeowners can test their soil first and only apply the fertilizers needed,” he said. “We recently purchased a no-till drill so landowners can reseed with permanent grasses to help hold soil in place so it doesn’t run into the lake.”
Miller said he and Herschel George, a K-State watershed specialist based in Ottawa, encourage livestock producers to consider watering and feeding options away from creeks to reduce sediment and manure ending up in creeks.
Missouri River area
Outreach meetings for the Missouri River area in extreme northeast Kansas, included a March 12 event in Hiawatha, where Lewis told participants that a proposed aqueduct stretching from Doniphan County across the state to western Kansas will not move forward. He said the price tag, estimated at $18 billion which doesn’t include legal, environmental and other costs, is not feasible, especially in view of the state’s current budget difficulties.
Alan Kelley, who represents the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Missouri on the planning committee for the Missouri River area, said high nitrates in the water pose the greatest challenge for both the tribe and the area in general. Some area landowners are also dealing with wells going dry.
The Iowa Tribe, located along the Missouri River, has a population of 4,500, about 300 of whom live on the reservation and 800 in the service area in Brown and Doniphan counties in Kansas and Richardson County in Nebraska.
Kelley said good water policy can improve the quality and quantity of water available in the area, and that he takes the simple approach, including not living beyond one’s means.
“If you don’t have enough water to grow a crop that uses a lot of it, then don’t plant it,” he said, adding that he would like to see a limit or an end to irrigation and chemical use in the area.
“Education, awareness, conservation,” should be the three priorities, he said, adding “human considerations and tribal water rights are a must before any waters are transferred. The 50-year vision is a good start, but who will police it?”
Other participant suggestions from that meeting included providing better public education about water for children and adults; a complete stop to irrigation in northeast Kansas; requiring meters on all wells; incorporating wellhead protection plans to reduce contamination; and ensuring that the less water used, the less a landowner pays and vice versa.
During April, the Regional Goal Leadership Team reviewed the public’s suggestions and will present draft goals at a May 20 Kansas Water Authority meeting in Greensburg.
By July, the recommended goals and KWA feedback will be posted online for public comment. In August, the KWA will meet to define the final goals. The goals are expected to be incorporated into the Vision and presented to the governor and state legislature by winter 2015.
More information about the Kansas Water Office and the development of the 50-year vision is available at Kansas Water Office.