The recent musty-tasting drinking water in Lawrence has, for the most part, dissipated. And while experts say such water problems don’t pose health risks for humans, there is great reason for concern about the future of the water supply in Lawrence and throughout much of Kansas.
Blue-green algae blooms, fueled by nutrient-rich sediment that is flowing into Kansas reservoirs, caused our patchouli-tasting water. Other communities in the state experienced similar problems this summer.
Lawrence draws its drinking water from both Clinton Lake and the Kansas River. And while Clinton Lake wasn’t the culprit in this summer’s musty water, it is filling up with sediment at a much-faster rate than originally predicted.
The city’s problems with algae this summer started miles upstream north of Manhattan — in Tuttle Creek Reservoir, which is about 50 years old.
This cycle of increased sediment and nutrients and more frequent algae blooms shows no sign of slowing anytime soon, according to the Kansas Biological Survey.
“You’re not going to see it improve because the water body holding it is an aging reservoir, filling with nutrients and filling with sediment,” Don Huggins, an aquatic ecologist, told the Journal-World.
As more sediment flows into reservoirs, more algae blooms can be expected. And left unchecked, the reservoirs will simply fill with silt.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers believes it can better control algae blooms. But it’s an involved process — and likely a costly one — that would include limiting erosion, animal waste and fertilizer that enter our waterways.
And, ultimately, experts predict that the state’s reservoirs must be dredged to rid them of silt. Another possibility is to construct new reservoirs.
No solution is cheap. In fact, the costs are extraordinary.
State officials have been aware for years that the sediment problem is growing and that extremely costly answers are looming on the horizon.
During the 2009 session of the Kansas Legislature, a Kansas Water Office official estimated it would cost $500 million to construct a new dam the size of Clinton Lake’s. That same official said the state needs $75 million — each year — to maintain current dams.
In sound economic times, those numbers seem astronomical.
But the problem — regardless of whether the state is in a recession — will not evaporate.
So the Legislature must agree to finance a long-term, workable solution. If not, a little musty-tasting drink of water will be nothing but a fond memory.