Topeka Degradation of the Kansas River streambed has caused millions of dollars in economic damage and created a host of environmental problems, according to a new state study.
"Considering how many people rely on the river ... degradation really is a serious issue that we ought to be taking a look at," Earl Lewis, manager of hydrology and evaluation at the Kansas Water Office, said Tuesday.
The Kansas Water Office report recommends further review of the 170-mile river, which runs through Lawrence and other major cities of northeast Kansas, to determine the extent of damages and what can be done about them.
The report will be considered Thursday by the Kansas Water Authority, which will decide what steps, if any, to take next.
The Water Office reviewed numerous studies and analyses of the river dating back to 1978, then assembled an advisory committee to gather more information.
More than 1 million people live in counties bordering the river, known as the Kaw, and they depend on it for drinking water, power plant operations and industrial development.
Laura Calwell of Mission, who serves as the Kansas Riverkeeper for the environmental group Friends of the Kaw, said she was disappointed the brief report didn't mention the effect that problems on the river had on recreational opportunities such as boating and canoeing.
But, she added, "I just want the study to go on to the next step. The natural state of the Kansas River is so compromised now."
But sand dredgers were wary about any further study.
"It's pouring money down the hole," said Edward "Woody" Moses, director of the Kansas Aggregate Producers Assn.
The report found that river degradation - the lowering of the streambed - was occurring in all reaches of the river, but especially in the Kansas City, Kan., area. And it was being caused by natural flooding, dams, commercial sand and gravel dredging and channel degradation on the Missouri River.
The degradation has caused bank erosion and widened the channel in some areas, forcing cities, water districts and energy companies to construct weirs, or barriers in the channel to control water.
The city of Lawrence has spent $1 million in recent years to maintain and upgrade the Bowersock Dam, whose foundation was eroded in part because of downstream degradation, the report said.
A Kansas City Board of Public Utilities power plant in Kansas City, Kan., was forced to shut down 15 years earlier than scheduled because the stream elevation fell below the water intakes needed to help cool the plant, the report said.
On the environmental side, the report said the Shovelnose Sturgeon and Plains Minnow have disappeared from the river.
Moses, representing the aggregate dredgers, said he feared further study could be used to try to limit dredging operations.
Each year, about 1.4 million tons of sand is taken from the Kansas River, with much of it removed from the river bed through hydraulic dredging operations at several sites.
The high-quality sand is a primary source of aggregate for cement used in construction projects in the Kansas City area.
"We're like a teaspoon compared to a shovel," Moses said, comparing the changes in the streambed from dredging with natural flooding and reservoir operations. Water discharges from reservoirs carry less silt and are more erosive, lowering channel beds that are downstream.
The Kansas Water Authority will consider the Kansas Water Office report and recommendations at its meeting at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in the Sunflower Room of the Capital Plaza Hotel in Topeka.
"The ultimate question is you spend a bunch of money studying the impacts and what are you going to do about it? Is it worth depriving people of jobs?" he asked.
The Water Office wants to inventory all structures in and around the river to determine their condition and vulnerability to degradation, set up groups of stakeholders within specific reaches of the river and then determine the extent of degradation in those areas of the river and come up with a plan to limit degradation.
Lewis, with the Kansas Water Office, said the studies weren't meant to blame sand dredgers.
"Our issue is that people who rely on the river have water and power," he said.