A local environmental group is shopping for a new boat so it can step up its anti-pollution patrols on the Kansas River and keep a closer eye on sand-dredging operations.
"I plan on being on the river a lot more this year," said Laura Calwell, a riverkeeper for Friends of the Kaw since 2003. "The last couple years in the spring, summer and fall, I got out probably two or three times a month. This year, I hope to get out five or six times a month. We intend to keep a very close eye on those dredging operations."
The group previously patrolled the river in a canoe. Now, thanks to several thousand dollars in grants, they are shopping for a john boat that will seat three or four people, Calwell said.
The new boat, motor and trailer will be underwritten by a recent $5,000 grant from the Norcross Wildlife Foundation.
Friends of the Kaw also has received a $1,000 grant from the Bramlage Family Foundation and a $4,000 grant from the Patagonia clothing company.
The Patagonia grant, Calwell said, is aimed at documenting environmental damage caused by sand and gravel mining operations along the Kansas River.
The Kansas Water Authority last month directed the Kansas Water Office to conduct a six-month review of previous studies of dredging's effect on the river.
"We'd like to put an end to the sand and gravel mining on the Kaw," Calwell said. "It degrades the banks and the stream bed. It destroys habitat."
Mining companies have opposed dredging restrictions, citing studies that have shown channel degradation to be a natural occurrence.
Each year, dredgers take about 1.8 million tons of sand from the Kansas River. Much of the sand is used for concrete in construction projects in the Kansas City area.
Spokesmen for local dredging companies could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but in comments last month to the Journal-World, a lobbyist for the sand and aggregate association stated the industry's view:
"We don't feel sand dredging is having any negative impact on the river. There's plenty of room for everybody on that river," said Edward "Woody" Moses, managing director of the Kansas Aggregate Producers Assn.
A lack of finances forced Friends of the Kaw to lay off its first riverkeeper, Dave Murphy, in May 2003.
The new grants, say board members, mark a renewal in the group's efforts to monitor river conditions.
"We're not just a bunch of people playing on the river," said board member Joanne Bergman of Lawrence. "We are protecting a natural resource. We love the river."
Friends of the Kaw has about 500 dues-paying members.