Archive for Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sedimentation threatens sources of drinking water, flood control

A gathering of geese wander out onto the ice from the beach at Lake Perry Thursday, Jan. 22, 2009. Kansas reservoirs are filling with sediment because of runoff and bank erosion. Lake Perry is one of the lakes in eastern Kansas most affected.

A gathering of geese wander out onto the ice from the beach at Lake Perry Thursday, Jan. 22, 2009. Kansas reservoirs are filling with sediment because of runoff and bank erosion. Lake Perry is one of the lakes in eastern Kansas most affected.

January 27, 2009


— State officials are warning that Kansas reservoirs and lakes are quickly filling with sediment, which could lead to severe water shortages.

“Certainly in the lives of our children and grandchildren, this is one of the more significant issues that the Legislature will have to get our hands around,” said state Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence.

Sloan, chairman of the newly formed Vision 2020 Committee, has been conducting hearings on the issue.

The amount of money necessary to address the problem of reservoirs filling with sediment is staggering, and the consequences of letting it go unattended are unacceptable, officials say. Alarms are being sounded, as state officials face a current budget crisis because of the national recession.

“These numbers get very big and scary in a hurry,” said Earl Lewis, assistant director of the Kansas Water Office. “We have ignored a growing problem over the past 50 years.”

Officials say the state needs to take action now because of the sometimes decades-long lead time needed to plan and build new reservoirs.

“How long do we really have to take care of this problem — that may well be dependent on the occurrence of a major drought,” said Ed Martinko, state biologist and director of the Kansas Biological Survey. “But time is running out, and we have to make some decisions that have long-term consequences on the future of Kansas.”

At stake is a $6 billion investment in the reservoirs that provide drinking water to two-thirds of Kansans, including those in nearly all of eastern Kansas. In addition, the reservoirs are used for flood control and recreation.

The highest areas of sedimentation are in eastern Kansas.

Since 1974, Lake Perry has lost 18 percent of its capacity to 92 million cubic yards of sediment. Six lakes have lost more than 20 percent of their capacity, including Fall River, Tuttle Creek, Kanopolis, Toronto and John Redmond Reservoir, which has lost approximately 45 percent of its capacity.

The culprit is runoff and bank erosion.

Natural lakes last for thousands of years. But man-made reservoirs, such as the ones in Kansas, have short life expectancies: 50 years to 100 years. The 93 reservoirs in Kansas used for drinking water have an average age of 51 years, according to the Kansas Water Office.

“Many of our reservoirs are silting in much faster than anticipated, than their designed life,” Martinko said.

This sedimentation results in greater costs to treat water for drinking, reduced recreational capabilities, and the prospect that certain watersheds could be facing shortages in the near future.

Ed Carney, with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment Bureau of Environmental Field Services, said there are things that can be done to address the problem, such as dredging, building secondary dams and constructing new reservoirs.

Of the current reservoirs, he said, “That’s too big an investment, I would think, to walk away from.”

But the options are expensive.

Building a new dam the size of Clinton Lake’s would easily cost $500 million, Lewis said. Simply to keep up with maintenance of the current dams, the state needs $75 million, he added.

A legislator asked Lewis whether that would be for just one year.

Lewis answered that it would take $75 million every year “forever.”


Toto_the_great 9 years, 4 months ago

Farmers, please stop taking out the riparian areas in your fields. You might think this will get you a couple of extra rows of corn, but in ten years that creek channel will expand in width (meaning sediment dumps in streams). There are other sedimentation sources (livestock in streams), but riparian removal is a biggy. Please work with your local NRCS offices because most are willing to work with you solving this problem.

Paul R Getto 9 years, 4 months ago

Toto: Good points. This is a serious, long-term problem and another chance for the public to be in denial. When we begin to pay the real cost of water people will hit the roof! After we finish the oil wars, the next will be over fresh water supplies, an even more valuable liquid commodity,. and unlike petroleum, one we cannot live without.

jaywalker 9 years, 4 months ago

Perhaps a regular and pro-active regimen of dredging should be adopted from the time a resevoir is built."We've been ignoring the problem for 50 years." Swell.

JohnBrown 9 years, 4 months ago

Ninety-eight percent of Kansas’ water occurs as precipitation, the remaining 2% enters Kansas as stream flow from Colorado and Nebraska. In an average year 85% of all Kansas water evaporates back into the atmosphere. On average, only 15% of Kansas water is actually available for use.Douglas County water resources are almost exclusively surface waters obtained from the Kansas, Marais des Cygnes and Wakarusa River watersheds and groundwaters from these river’s associated alluvial aquifers. Excluding private domestic use, less than 1.7% of the water used in Douglas County is derived from groundwater. Clinton Reservoir is an Army Corps of Engineers facility located in the Wakarusa River Watershed and commenced water impoundment on November 30, 1977. Design capacity includes both conservation (comprised of a water quality and water supply component) and flood control storage totaling 368,700 acre feet. The entire public water supply portion is controlled by the Kansas Water Office (KWO, formerly known as the Kansas Water Resources Board) and is based on a reservation right approved on November 16, 1979.Kansas law requires a “2% yield” to be included in the water supply pool reservation right. The 2% yield is an estimate of the minimum yield of the reservoir during a prolonged 50-year drought. This minimum is used to ensure water availability to all water suppliers (municipalities and rural water districts) during extreme drought. In 1997 it was discovered Clinton Reservoir was silting in 5 times faster than anticipated in 1977. The added silt reduced the reservoir’s water storage capacity and thus reduced the 2% yield. KWO was recently required to reduce the amounts of water available to water suppliers in their contracts from Clinton.The future 2% yield of Clinton is expected to decline as siltation continues, but estimates as to the rate of decline is in question. KWO anticipates a slowing of the siltation rate, so that by 2037 the 2% yield would be 16.5 million gallons per day (MGD); however, no published information justifying their prediction is available. If the rate of siltation continues into the future at its current rate then the 2% yield of Clinton Reservoir in 2037 would only be 11 MGD. In the absence of historical data showing otherwise, extrapolation is considered a reasonable predictor of future sedimentation (Leib. and Stiles, 1998).[end of part 1)

JohnBrown 9 years, 4 months ago

(Partt 2 begins here)Future water demand depends upon two variables: population growth rate, and the per capita water consumption rate. Our future water supply depends upon the Clinton Reservoir siltation rate and assumes no new water contract purchases. Lawrence’s historical growth rate over the past several decades has shown an annual increase of 2.2 percent. With these variables in mind, it is possible to estimate a best-case and worst-case scenario for when water demand exceeds the water supply.For a population growth rate of 2.2%, with no additional siltation at Clinton Reservoir, water demand will exceed supply in about 2030 (best case). If Clinton Reservoir continues to silt in at its current rate demand could exceed the supply as early as 2021 (worst case). If Lawrence’s growth rate is accelerated to 2.5% then demand would exceed supply in 2027 (best case) or 2020 (worst case).A review of water right terminology , a list of water suppliers operating in part or wholly within Douglas County , and a list of all non-domestic water right holders are provided.Source: WATER INVENTORY OF DOUGLAS COUNTY, KANSAS: SOURCES, RIGHTS, SUPPLIERS and WATER DEMAND PROJECTIONS by Larry R. Kipp, Ph.D. April 9, 2001.(Presented to the City of Lawrence and the Douglas County Commissions back then).

gccs14r 9 years, 4 months ago

There are too many people in Kansas. If it weren't for overpopulation, we wouldn't need dams or wells.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 4 months ago

Because so much of the runoff is from agricultural lands, the silt in the reservoirs is quite contaminated. You can't just dredge it up and throw it on a field.

hujiko 9 years, 4 months ago

Reality_CheckYes, the primary purpose of the area reservoirs is to control flooding on the Kansas and Missouri rivers, but they are also used to supply our water. Clinton Lake supplies over 100,000 people with their daily drinking water, making it the most relied upon reservoir in the state, without intervention the problem will only get worse.

Sharon Aikins 9 years, 4 months ago

I read a few years ago that at the current rate of population growth and water usage, the world's fresh water supplies would be depleted in thirty years. At the time I wondered how that could happen. Now it is evident that we are treating water like it is a neverending commodity. We need to tackle the problem not only here but worldwide. Compared to some areas of the world, our population is smaller with a greater amount of water. So if we are in trouble, why not the world? Take also into consideration our changing weather patterns. A program on NG the other day showed how with as little as 2 degrees of global warming, we would be in serious trouble, catastrophic at 4 degrees and an unlivable planet for most life at 6 degrees. It's already started, glacier melting being one of the most obvious signs. While this produces water, it flows into the oceans, making it undrinkable and having the potential to wipe out major cities on the East coast. What happens then? My guess would be migration to the middle part of the country, further compounding our problem. Having to deal with this problem in the middle of our economic crisis seems impossible but it's obvious we have to start now or some of us, and especially our children and grandchildren, are in serious trouble. Water is one resource we tend not to be conservative with, thinking it replenishes itself. But as we are seeing now, it doesn't or at least not in a way that makes it usable to us. We may have to learn to love our brown lawns, do laundry less often with larger loads, turn off the water while we brush our teeth or wash a few dishes, take quick showers, etc. And we need to start doing it now!

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 4 months ago

"If the runoff came from agricultural lands, wouldn't that be exactly the reason why you could 'throw it on a field'?"The agricultural and other chemicals have been settling and concentrating in these lakes for decades-- much higher concentrations, and in much different forms, than would be applied topically on an annual basis to a farm field. And as already pointed out, silt is not soil. Just one of the gifts that keep on giving from industrial agriculture.

igby 9 years, 4 months ago

Sometimes you can correct this kind of silt problem by sinking a pipe into the area you want to remove silt from and closing the spillway which will force the drawing out of silt like a straw effect from the bottom as the surface water level rises. Over time a lake or large pond can be made to self clean it's self.

KS 9 years, 4 months ago

Gosh! Did not know there were so many water experts in Lawrence. You guys must all work for the State of Kansas. You are such experts!

Mark Jakubauskas 9 years, 4 months ago

Lots of good comments here. Probably far more than I could address in one short message, since the problem of sedimentation in our reservoirs IS a serious one, one that state agencies ARE concerned about, and involves fair bit of history, policy, and science."Tumbilweed" is correct; silt is not soil. Much of what lies on the bottom is very fine-grained clay. Easily pumped, since it has a semi-liquid consistency, but dries rather hard.Is it toxic ? Not really. Unlike many of the reservoirs in the East, we haven't had industrial contamination of the reservoirs, which would introduce heavy metals (e.g., chromium, mercury, selenium, etc) into the silt. See the web site: for a summary and links."Reality_Check" asks is many people get their water from reservoirs. Try this: 60% of Kansas citizens get their water from a state, local, or federal reservoir. Yes, the federal reservoirs WERE designed originally - 50 or more years ago - for flood control. But we have become very reliant upon them for drinking water (remember as well - the interstate highway system was originally conceived and built for defense purposes). Yes, there have been releases from the reservoirs, particularly along the Kaw (Tuttle, Perry, Milford, Clinton) to support barge traffic on the Missouri, which is an issue for the State.

remember_username 9 years, 4 months ago

Wouldn't it seem reasonable to increase the charges on water usage to offset the cost of maintaining a water supply. I know no one wants to see an increase in utility fees, but it might encourage conservation. Assuming the 75M is evenly distributed over the current 25 large reservoirs, that is about 3M per year each. Douglas County has roughly 40K households and apartments, not to mention KU (another 5K in residence) and business users. The cost of maintaining the condition of local water supplies might cost a little more than 5$ a month. Just throwing some numbers out there for discussion.

stuckinthemiddle 9 years, 4 months ago

this is a wonderfully informative discussion... the best I’ve ever seen here at LJW… I've learned a lot and appreciate all those who have shared knowledge...and... I think "remember_username" makes an excellent point and has an excellent idea for how to pay for all this...

geniusmannumber1 9 years, 4 months ago

I am, frankly, amazed. An intelligent, thoughtful discussion, including disagreement without name-calling, building on one another's ideas...with the exception of two comments (gccs14r and KS), every one of these has contributed to a thoughtful, constructive discussion (or has commented on how thoughtful and constructive the conversation is). Maybe I'm just hallucinating. Shouldn't have had that second bourbon at breakfast.

jaywalker 9 years, 4 months ago

geniusman,A second bourbon at breakfast? Easy now, you should really start the day with gin, pace yourself! Anyway thanks for the chuckle.To this end, the issue of resevoirs and particularly agricultural hydration in the western part of the state should have been an active topic for years now. Isn't the main acquifer for western Kansas dangerously close to running dry, or does it only feed Nebraska? And between the Corps of Engineers and the state reps you'd think this would have been something addressed long ago. When I lived up by Mclouth at Lake Dabinawa they'd dredge that glorified pond once every couple years, and that only has one small feeder stream to it and little runoff from the yards. You'd like to think someone knew this should be a constant project.

remember_username 9 years, 4 months ago

max1 - I agree there is considerable waste that should be addressed. It drove me crazy when the apartment complex automatic sprinklers would start up every night at 1am - even in the rain. At least they watered at night.The articles you quoted are years old. Have there been any changes? The 2006 article lists Eagle Bend as a customer so something may have changed since the 2004 quotation. Nice to know where Alvamar and KU sit on the scale. Wow. The California bill isn't surprising considering the water issues in that state. The nice thing about increasing fees is that it lets the user decide if the cost is worth it and it is a good compromise. I'm not a golfer but if the green fees (now that's funny) are too high because of water bills, I might be happy to accept a brown fairway.

jayhawklawrence 9 years, 4 months ago

For more information on erosion control go to worked in this industry for awhile, I am very confident in the up and coming new civil engineers who are working on the erosion issue. At the same time, I am concerned about how the state contracts are issued when it comes to land development and erosion control.I can see along the highways that erosion control technologies are being implemented and they are getting much better at it. I am impressed at how well the new generation of engineers is tackling the job. Unfortunately, it took more pressure from the EPA than it should have to change old habits. The RepubliCons need to develop a better relationship with the EPA and those who are concerned about the environment and who see the dangers coming down the road in the areas of water and energy resources. We should no longer use the term "tree hugger" when someone raises an issue about the environment.

Mark Jakubauskas 9 years, 4 months ago

A few more notes:Most folks just think of the big federal reservoirs (like Clinton) when they think of lakes used as public water supplies. Of the 24 federal reservoirs in the state, 20 are used for drinking water. There are an additional 73 state and local reservoirs that also serve as water supplies - lakes like Gardner, Olathe, Wabaunsee, Eureka, Parsons, and Winfield, to name a few.With regards to the Corps of Engineers, their mandate by law is to provide flood protection first and foremost. The reservoirs had a design lifetime of 50-100 years....unfortunately, some of them are now approaching that design lifespan. Furthermore, many of our reservoirs are silting in far faster than originally anticipated, even with conservation measures on the watersheds.

JohnBrown 9 years, 4 months ago

Recommendations made by Friends of Douglas County in 2001:Recommendations:1. Monitor siltation rates in Clinton reservoir more frequently.2. Begin considerations for low-level, continuous dredging of Clinton Reservoir. A first step would be to determine toxicity levels of dredge materials. Knowledge about possible contaminants is necessary before any consideration can be given to dredged materials ultimate placement.3. Intensify silt mitigation and erosion controls in Clinton Reservoir watershed.4. Emphasize recruitment of low water use industry. 5. Bowersock water rights are for a non-consumptive use; unlikely or extremely difficult to convert into a consumptive use for municipal uses.6. Irrigation water rights may be difficult to convert into municipal uses, since these waters tend to be of much lower quality. May be useful for non-potable water uses such as rural fire protection.7. Eudora, Baldwin and a few of the Rural Water districts should consider filing applications for water held in water rights 36 & 37 (Sunflower).8. Consider feasibility of infusing the Douglas Aquifer during water surplus years.9. Incorporate water conservation planning into zoning and platting to avoid building on highly permeable soils. There will be a time when Lawrence/Douglas County will need all the water absorption capacity it can get. This can also dovetail with storm water management best practices.10. Seek professional advice on the appropriate kinds and scale of development which may occur over the Kansas River alluvial aquifer in order to protect this sustainable water supply.11. Conduct in-depth water usage projections for each water supplier in Douglas County. Incorporate this information into the County’s comprehensive plan, Horizon 2020.12. Promote xerophytic landscaping to help reduce water demand during drought.

spankyandcranky 9 years, 4 months ago

It seems highly irresponsible and typical to hear that "We have ignored a growing problem over the past 50 years" Clearly it's time to take action, and it's nice to see that many people are concerned and have offered their suggestions. Wouldn't it be more effective if we could collaborate and present these suggestions to those that make decisions regarding this issue? It would be nice if articles like this included a name and contact info for concerns and recommendations to be sent to.

lounger 9 years, 4 months ago

Kansas ranks 50th in water quality year after year (as in LAST). If we would clean up the polluted river around here (the Kaw) then we wouldn't have to spend so much money cleaning up the water to drink from the river. I know it wont supply all of our water but if most of our water comes from precipitation then that could be harnessed as well. New thinking here not old will solve our problems. Silt will come no matter how well the farmers treat the land-its just a faster process if the land is being abused. Maybe its because Kansas is land locked that water is such a low priority here but it will catch up to us if we dont do something NOW!

Mark Jakubauskas 9 years, 4 months ago

Think of reservoirs as infrastructure, just like a road or a railroad or a water main or an electrical grid:Infrastructure (definition): "The basic facilities, services, and installations needed for the functioning of a community or society. The term infrastructure has been used for nearly 100 years to refer collectively to the roads, bridges, rail lines, and similar public works that are required for an industrial economy, or a portion of it, to function." Roads, bridges, rail lines....and reservoirs. Reservoirs? Absolutely. The federal reservoirs alone in Kansas represent an investment of over $6 billion (in 2008-adjusted dollars) in water infrastructure, not counting the economic benefits of drinking water, flood control, and recreation. When the water supply is impaired or threatened, economic shock waves spread throughout the system. The most immediate and visible effects can be increased water treatment costs, but the long-term consequences of water impairment or shortage can have serious effects on the livelihood of a city, county, and even the state. Recognizing this critical need for water, the City of Horton noted in their application to the State Conservation Commission for funds to restore Mission Lake, "...the City of Horton is going to be limited in economic and population growth by the amount of water that is available to the City." It's not a problem that we can ignore or put off, even in difficult economic times. Preliminary analysis by the Kansas Water Office indicates that demands for water in the Neosho River Basin, for example, could exceed the supply during a severe drought by the year 2012. "When the well is dry, they know the worth of water" (Benjamin Franklin)

jayhawklawrence 9 years, 4 months ago

This issue comes up from time to time and lasts about a week and then disappears. The only force for change that I have seen that had any real effect was the threat of fines by the EPA. Everyone who discusses these issues seriously always wants to do something to improve it but the reality is that it comes down to the civil engineering companies, the Prime Contractors and KDOT or the Turnpike Authority and whoever is politically connected to the right decision makers.Many of these solutions either cost too much money for any current budget or they interfere with the status quo. Change is hard and the guys down the totem pole are afraid to rock the boat and lose their jobs.So go along and get along is the rule of the day and do whatever you have to do to avoid those EPA fines.The Bush administration worked hard to weaken the authority of the EPA to levy these fines and won a major court battle limiting the EPA's authority.Some states are more progressive than others to adopt better standards. Kansas has been one of the more difficult states to work with but even they are starting to change, albeit slowly.The threat of losing our reservoirs to silt should be another wake up call but the EPA needs to be allowed authority to monitor and enforce standards or NOTHING will happen I am afraid.

Toto_the_great 9 years, 4 months ago

Max1, please expand on your comment "Bank erosion is the main problem, and that has nothing to do with farming practices." How do you figure? I have seen first hand farmers removing riparian areas. Without the root mass, what is going to hold the soil? I am not saying all farmers are responsible, but look at the area row-crop fields and how close they are to the stream, and then look at how degrated the stream is there. Now go to a place with an intact riparian area. The difference is obvious. It is a common problem, esp in the Midwest. The data area available to show that riparian areas are correlated with sediment loads in streams (with all sorts of reprocussions, such as reduced fish diversity).Regarding placing sediment back in fields, it can work and has worked (a TNC project in Peroria using sediment from the Illinois River... one of the most polluted streams at the turn of last century). I am sure there are other examples. Having a practice of dredging a lake every X years is not a good practice. You are forgetting about other bethic organisms (e.g., clams). If we can prevent the problem, then we can control it.

RedwoodCoast 9 years, 4 months ago

I agree with Toto, in part. Most farmland is located adjacent to waterways and in floodplains. Let's say it's April, and a farmer needs to get corn in the ground. He's already injected anhydrous into the soil. So he finds a dry day and gets the corn in the field. Two days later, the creek breaches its banks and inundates the field. Since the soil is recently disturbed, most of the plowzone (in archaeology speak) gets flushed off into the creek. You are left with undisturbed ground ("hard-pan") that then gets reworked and farmed later on. So you have a pretty large volume of sediment (deflation) coming from agricultural fields during flood events.These lakes were built for flood control, but due to the fact that the larger portion of floodplains in E. Kansas are farmed, there really isn't any vegetation to keep the soil from being flushed around during the spring and fall, when most of the larger rains occur and when farmers are most likely to be disturbing the ground. These areas were once either forested or covered with prairie. I really don't see any way to stop sedimentation of the lakes. We can't quit farming, but maybe farmers and/or ranchers could take some steps towards preserving lowland vegetation in the places where it would do the most good. Keeping livestock out of waterways would be a good first step, in my opinion.

Toto_the_great 9 years, 4 months ago

Thanks Max and Redwood. I see your points and agree with them. I have seen first hand what you referenced. The area I'm in (So Jeff Co.) has a lot of riparian removal in headwater streams, and although the streams might be small, they do contribute to sediment load. Farming practices are a major part of poor stream quality (as is industry). I am a farm kid and have worked with neighbors on what I think is good for the env't and their farms. Some are more than willing and other farmers think I am crazy (e.g., "why the hell should I care about a darter... if I can't eat it, then what good is it to me?"). It is a difficult balance. I think you and I are on the same page. I might have misread (misunderstood) your comment about bank erosion and farming practices. Row crop ag and riparian removal often go hand in hand (a buddy sent me pics from Illinois where corn was growing sideways), and both lead to sediment. I would like to see more research go into no-till farming.

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