Archive for Sunday, May 21, 2006

Studies agree on ‘wetlands’ geology

May 21, 2006


There is much controversy in Lawrence about whether the South Lawrence Trafficway should cross the Baker Wetlands on 32nd Street or go south of the Wakarusa River with two bridge crossings and about 1 1/2 miles increase in length and additional cost.

About 50 years ago, when there was no thought of a Kansas Highway 10 bypass and no Baker Wetlands, I drove onto this wetlands area (Section 18, T 13 S, R 20 E) and talked with a farmer about his grove of Osage Orange trees he was growing to harvest for fence posts and firewood. I was doing fieldwork for a publication titled "Geology and Groundwater Resources of Douglas County, Kansas," published in 1960 as State Geological Survey of Kansas, Bulletin 148. I mapped the geology of this area as the Newman Terrace which in the Wakarusa River Valley is characterized as a nearly flat, poorly drained surface, without old meander scars and in some areas may require artificial drainage for farming, but most of it is farmed without artificial drainage.

"The Soil Survey of Douglas County, Kansas," authored by H.P. Dickey and others, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service, 1977, describes the soil developed on the Newman Terrace at the Baker Wetlands as the Wabash Silty Clay soil. It is a "deep, poorly drained to very poorly drained nearly level soil on bottom lands and terraces. Native vegetation is water tolerant prairie grasses and deciduous trees. In Douglas County about 85 percent of this soil is cultivated, the rest is used for pasture or left idle. Available water capacity and natural fertility are high. Permeability is very slow."

There is no disagreement between the geologists and the soils scientists about the character of the Baker Wetlands. Any swamps or marshes are manmade.

Webster's New World College Dictionary, 4th edition defines wetlands as (1) swamps or marshes, (2) an area of land characterized by swamps, marshes, etc., that is preserved for wildlife.

Historically this area was purchased by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) between 1890 and 1902 and was being farmed at the time it was purchased. The BIA, in 1920, completed a large drainage project consisting of levees, drainage ditches, and tiling to lower the water table. The land was used for education and food production until 1934 when agriculture training programs were terminated by Haskell and the BIA, and the land was again leased to local farmers.

The BIA declared the land surplus in 1956 and transferred the land to the General Services Administration. In 1967, it was transferred to the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Baker University requested the 573-acre property for education and research use and, in 1968, under the direction of Ivan L. Boyd, many of the drainage projects that had been installed were reversed and a variety of habitats - wet meadows, upland prairie vegetation, shrubby habitat, open water marshes and dense woodland were developed.

Today the levees, ditches and water diversions from the canal along the south side of 31st Street have artificially created bodies of open water and marshes and the large trees that were growing naturally in those areas have drowned. Ivan Boyd and his son Roger Boyd, the current manager of the Baker Wetlands, have done a remarkable job of creating open water marshes and wet meadows as well as retaining woodlands and prairie vegetation habitats for Baker University and other interested parties' educational and research uses.

Baker University would be compensated for the acreage taken for the SLT along 32nd Street by funds to create and maintain an additional 300 acres of new managed wetlands adjacent to the current property. Included would be a new educational center building with a small auditorium, classrooms, and exhibits. As proposed it would be a prime educational and research facility about wetlands for Baker University but also Kansas University and the K-12 schools in the area.

The 32rd Street route is the most direct and practical route and would eliminate the need for two new bridges across the Wakarusa River and the additional approximately 1 1/2 miles of road costs.

Currently the state of Kansas considers the fair cost of operating an automobile to be 44 1/2 cents per mile, and state employees who use their personal cars on official state business are compensated at that rate. In this day of increasing fuel and operating costs for cars and trucks, let's conserve resources and costs using the 32nd Street route for construction and long-term savings for the shorter driving route for all future users of the SLT.

I hope the city commissioners and the community will join together to support the 32nd Street route that has been approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Kansas Department of Transportation. I also hope the Sierra Club, of which I am a member, and the Audubon Club also will join and support Roger Boyd's 32nd Street preference.

We need the SLT completed as soon as possible, hopefully by the time the new four-lane U.S. Highway 59 is completed from Ottawa to Lawrence. Traffic volumes continue to grow!

Howard G. O'Connor is a Lawrence resident and senior geologist emeritus for the Kansas Geological Survey.


outsider 11 years, 9 months ago

Nice Article, very full of FACTS instead of emotion...

cowboy 11 years, 9 months ago

This validates what I said last week and was called ignorant by the huggers. I call on Baker to stand up and drain the wetlands. Remove the mosquito breeeding factory and improve the outdoor environ for all the nearby residents. Turn the wetlands into usable green space instead of unusable wetspace. Perform a serious survey for possible grave sites with the top experts in the country including native representation and buy in. Relocate and properly memorialize any gravesites. Even if you take any road out of the equation a usable large park would be a great asset to the community. No ball fields please.

Build a native arts center to provide a viable outlet for native produced art , endow artist in residence programs , create economic incubator for native ventures than can endow student scholarships for post grad opportunities or supplement funding or grant opportunities for HINU.

Take a negative and make a positive for Haskell and the community.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 9 months ago

In other words, better in Haskell's backyard than yours, right, cowboy?

gr 11 years, 9 months ago


How about in Lawrence's back yard? Where the traffic is, there the roads should be.

cowboy 11 years, 9 months ago

Bozo , road or no road the wetlands would make a great park , give your hostility a break

Huh 11 years, 9 months ago

With due respect to Mr. O'Connor, based on his own words, I do not see how he was able to come to the conclusion that the wetlands were manmade. They certainly have been influenced by man, but the very definitions he uses inidicate that the conditions for at least a marginal wetlands already were there. I've not seen any information on how wet the wetlands were originally. And I would be very interested in how early the area was farmed.

1) O'Connor's mapping resulted in the area being typed as Newman Terrace, a part of the Wakarusa River Valley characterized "by nearly flat, poorly drained surface ... and in some areas may require artificial drainage for farming, but most of it is farmed without artificial drainage." Intrepretation: Drainage is an issue.

2) The Soil Survey of Douglas County, Ks., from the U.S.D.A. repeats the drainage issue: " deep, poorly drained to very poorly drained nearly level soil on bottom lands and terraces. Native vegetation is water tolerant prairie grasses and deciduous trees... Permeability is very slow." Intrepretation: Water tolerant prairie grasses grew naturally before farmers started cultivating the land.

3) The Bureau of Indian Affairs purchased the land and it was farmed. Obviously, only parts were farmed, because in 1920 the BIA undertook a large drainage project of levees, drainage ditches and tiling to lower the water table. Intrepretation: Lots of water there, and more than is desirable for farming.

4) The land eventually is given to Baker University after the BIA declared it surplus land. Baker caretakers eventually removed many of the manmade levees, allowing it to start returning to a more natural state. In fact, maintaining the drainage system to the degree needed for farming would have been expensive. Water moves soil and the ditches that remain are ineffective in creating farmable land. Left to its own devises, erosion eventually would fill in the ditches, the wetlands healing itself from man's incursion. (In fact, a thorough study of watching the wetlands heal itself would be worthy.)

My point here is that Mr. O'Connor's conclusion about the wetlands leaves questions. And is not a reason to approve the 32nd street route.

My greater concern about the project is the same as the majority of the commission. This project is too divisive to the community. No matter which route is chosen, this will be seen as winners vs. losers and this community will be damaged for a generation. A generation already has been devoted to the issue, and if a clear-cut decision about what's right can't be determined in that amount of time, it's best to move on. There never will be a "right" decision on this issue.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 9 months ago

"Bozo , road or no road the wetlands would make a great park , give your hostility a break"

For someone who has been openly hostile towards anyone opposing the 32nd St route, particularly Haskell, I'd say you should take your own advice.

cowboy 11 years, 9 months ago

yo bozo , i openly admit there will never be a road there , give it up !

gr 11 years, 9 months ago

"1920 the BIA undertook a large drainage project"

The ones responsible for the Indians drained it?


conservative 11 years, 9 months ago

Huh, you're right that the two sides will never see eye to eye. However the idea that we can just ignore the need for the road is ridiculous. Personally I prefer the 32nd street option simply because it is less expensive and more direct. However I would be perfectly happy to see a 42nd street road if they would just start building it. The traffic problems in Lawrence will only get worse if this isn't completed before the 4 lanes to Ottawa are open.

No this one road isn't going to alleviate the traffic problems, but it is step one of many.

gr 11 years, 9 months ago

"However I would be perfectly happy to see a 42nd street road if they would just start building it. "

You want to see countless wildlife in the unique and limited riparian areas killed which are usually overlooked?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 9 months ago

Be honest, gr-- you couldn't care less about riparian wildlife.

gr 11 years, 9 months ago

Sounds like you could care less.

Why do you put a higher value on one type of wildlife but not others?

Michael McClain 11 years, 8 months ago

The SLT will never be built in my lifetime... and I plan on being around another 30 years!

taylorc29 11 years, 7 months ago

I say take over the Baker Wetlands! And don't compensate them for it... I go to Baker.. and I haven't taken Biology yet, but when I do I have to go wading through those wetlands. It really doesn't sound like fun

Commenting has been disabled for this item.