A key player on state environmental issues talked Wednesday about the challenges facing Kansas and its water quality.
Agricultural pollution and dredging continue to threaten the Kansas River at an alarming rate, one of the state's chief environmental activists said Wednesday during a forum at Kansas University.
Charles Benjamin, legislative coordinator for the Kansas Natural Resource Council and the Kansas chapter of Sierra Club, told about 50 people gathered at Ecumenical Christian Ministries, 1204 Oread, that Kansas still has a long way to go to keep up with the federal Clean Water Act.
From the Kaw's headwaters in Junction City to its confluence with the Missouri River in Kansas City, wastewater from densely populated areas is treated to varying degrees before flowing into it.
Some treatment plants, two in particular in Topeka and Johnson County, operate with expired wastewater permits, leaving unchecked the levels of chemicals such as fecal coliform bacteria and ammonia, he said.
Other sources of pollution generated from surface water and ground water include chlorides and atrazine -- a highly soluble chemical that has been shown to decimate plant life that fish need for eating and breeding, and has been classified a ``Class C'' carcinogen.
``It's really an unsafe river and it doesn't meet current state health standards,'' Benjamin said.
Recently, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resource Council and other groups have gone to court to force the state to send a regular three-year update on water quality to the EPA. Why? Cities don't want to raise sewage fees, he said.
Some chronically endangered waterways are regularly left off the state list, which could intensify legal battles.
In addition, construction booms have led to an increased desire for sand and gravel dredging, activities opposed by groups such as the Sierra Club and Friends of the Kaw.
But Benjamin said the biggest source of pollution is agriculture -- a community that has a lock on state government.
The state's two main legislative environmental committees, as well as the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, are headed by officials with backgrounds in the farming industry, he said.
``I don't think you need a Ph.D. to figure out what's going on,'' Benjamin said.
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