Trio to conduct Kaw River checkup over 12 days

Kansas Riverkeeper Laura Calwell, shown in this April 25, 2007, file photo, will explore the Kansas River to monitor, clean and restore this major source of drinking water.

Riverkeeper Laura Calwell and two associates will spend about 12 days paddling along the 171-mile Kansas River in kayaks and taking inventory.

They will identify areas of the river – which runs from Junction City to Kansas City – in need of monitoring, cleanup and restoration. The trio will look at physical structures such as pipes, bridges, dams and banks. They also will test the water quality near wastewater treatment discharges.

“The biggest part of my job is to enforce and to watch over the river. So, actually getting on the river and seeing exactly what is going on, on the river, helps a lot,” said Calwell, who is riverkeeper for Friends of the Kaw, a nonprofit environmental organization that helps raise money for the inventory project.

The journey begins Saturday, and the group plans to stop in Wamego, Topeka and Lawrence, where they will meet volunteers who will help them recharge batteries and provide fresh supplies.

Until the group’s first inventory last summer, such information wasn’t available.

Josh Marks, regulatory project manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said that he didn’t know of another project like it and that the data was valuable.

“I think it’s a good thing for the Kansas River and to know what’s out there and help better plan for the future,” he said.

For example, the group found an area south of Manhattan last year where small amounts of concrete were being dumped down a river bank. Calwell reported the findings to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, which handled the case.

Mike Heideman, communications specialist with the KDHE, said the agency has worked with the Friends of the Kaw on educational projects and said the resources they provided were “absolutely important.”

“We think the more participants that we have involved in helping to ensure water quality in Kansas, the better that is for efforts to protect the environment,” he said.

Area residents need to protect the Kaw because it’s one of their main sources for drinking water. It also quenches the thirst for area farms and businesses.

“The Kansas River is our lifeline and literally is where we are getting our water and what keeps us alive,” said Cynthia Annett, scientific adviser for Friends of the Kaw and a participant in the inventory project.

Annett and Calwell said one of their biggest concerns was runoff pollution caused by rainfall or snowmelt moving over and through the ground. As it moves, it picks up pollutants such as oil, fertilizers, pet wastes and insecticides and deposits them in rivers and lakes. They said there wasn’t much regulation on such pollution.

“When it rains, the water carries those substances or that debris down the storm sewers and right into the river,” Calwell said. “So, really there’s a lot of things that just a normal person can do to help make our water quality better.”

For example, use organic fertilizers on lawns. Also, don’t litter. For more tips on how to help preserve the river or to follow the inventory trip down the river, click on