Topeka — State water officials Thursday declined to dive into a comprehensive study of the Kansas River. They opted instead to stick a toe in those controversial waters and decide later whether to take a swim.
The Kansas Water Authority, an advisory committee on water issues, gave the Kansas Water Office permission to conduct a six-month review of previous studies of the 170-mile river, often called the Kaw.
The Water Office had proposed a major study on the cause of channel degradation, focusing on the effects of aggregate dredging and dams.
But several authority board members questioned the need for such a comprehensive look and feared it would cost too much in staff time.
"There are a whole lot of questions," Authority Chairman Steve Irsik said. "It kind of feels like we're stepping off into a black hole."
Edward "Woody" Moses, managing director of the Kansas Aggregate Producers Assn., testified that there have been numerous federal studies already done on the river and that the major cause of channel degradation is simply from natural occurrence.
"I'm not even sure if it's wise to proceed today," Moses said.
But Laura Calwell, the Kansas Riverkeeper for Friends of the Kaw, which has opposed sand dredging, urged the authority to conduct the study.
She noted that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees sand dredging permits, has asked the state for input on pending permits. Dredgers pull about 1.8 million tons of sand per year from the Kaw, which is then used for concrete in construction projects in the Kansas City area.
"There are many conflicting conclusions of past studies. Kansas needs to look at this," Calwell said.
Tracy Streeter, director of the Water Office, said the study is needed to develop a baseline of information about the status of the river. Decisions can be made later if regulatory changes are needed.
"Let's elevate everyone's knowledge," he said.
Irsik said the state needed to proceed cautiously. The authority approved allowing the Water Office to review existing studies and then come back to the authority in June with a recommendation on what to do next.
The board would then decide whether to continue the study, he said.
According to the Water Office's original plan, after the six month review of current studies, the office would then start looking at the affects of dredging on the river.