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Archive for Monday, May 14, 2012

Proposals to expand dredging cited as peril to Kansas River

A dredging operation sits east of downtown Lawrence along the Kansas River. Environmentalists say proposals to expand dredging of the river would degrade the river bed and bank, as well as stir up pollutants that have settled at the bottom of the river.

A dredging operation sits east of downtown Lawrence along the Kansas River. Environmentalists say proposals to expand dredging of the river would degrade the river bed and bank, as well as stir up pollutants that have settled at the bottom of the river.

May 14, 2012

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A dredging operation sits east of downtown Lawrence along the Kansas River. Environmentalists say proposals to expand dredging of the river would degrade the river bed and bank, as well as stir up pollutants that have settled at the bottom of the river.

A dredging operation sits east of downtown Lawrence along the Kansas River. Environmentalists say proposals to expand dredging of the river would degrade the river bed and bank, as well as stir up pollutants that have settled at the bottom of the river.

A proposal to increase sand and gravel dredging along the Kansas River has placed the body of water on a list of the most endangered rivers in the country.

Each year, American Rivers, a river preservation organization, names the nation’s 10 most endangered rivers. This year’s list is led by the Potomac River, where clean water and public health are threatened by pollution, the organization said. The Missouri River also made the list because of what the organization called outdated flood management.

The Kansas River, which has been included on the list three other times in the past two decades, was No. 10.

“This is not the 10th most polluted river in the country. The river is at a crossroads. It is at tipping point,” said Laura Calwell, who is the riverkeeper with Friends of the Kaw, a local environmental advocacy group that aims to protect the river.

At the heart of the concern is a request for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit that would allow five dredging companies to increase the amount of sand and gravel removed from the Kansas River by about 45 percent, from 2.2 million tons a year to 3.2 million. The permits also seek to move into three areas of the river that had been closed because of “unacceptable degradation.”

The corps is expected to make a decision late this year.

“It is going to give national recognition to this problem,” Calwell said of the American Rivers designation. “And, hopefully, influence the corps of engineers.”

The pending permits run counter to an effort through the U.S. Department of Interior to designate the Kansas River as a National Water Trials System. The federal agency also has named the Kansas River Water Trail as one of its top 101 conservation projects.

“Those two things don’t mesh,” Calwell said.

As for the health of the river, Calwell said studies show that dredging degrades the river bed and bank. And it stirs up pollutants that have settled at the bottom of the river, harming the native plants and wildlife, she said.

The five businesses that are filing for dredging permits were contacted for this story. They did not immediately return phone calls or answer the phone.

American Rivers has requested that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers complete a new environmental impact study on dredging, deny all new permits and tonnage requests and end dredging on the river by 2017. Calwell said they don’t want to put the companies out of business but would like to see them move to mining operations in the Kansas River Valley over the next five years.

“We don’t think it is appropriate to expand dredging on the Kaw,” Calwell said.

Comments

Joe Hyde 2 years, 7 months ago

Perhaps the dredgers are using a different measurement now to describe the amounts of sand and gravel they vacuum from the river channel. The former method was to state the volume in cubic yards. And in the past at least, the Corps placed a maximum per-year removal limit of 300,000 cubic yards on individual dredging sites that received 5-year operating permits. (Not that anyone ever checked to make sure the dredgers complied.)

300,000 cubic yards of sand, if laid on the ground in one mass, will create a pile of sand 6 feet tall x 125 feet wide x 1 1/2-miles long. In five years time the sand pile stretches to 7 miles long. And this only speaks to the sand -- separating all those sand granules from riverbed sediments releases tremendous amounts of silt (some of it contaminated with extremely persistent chemicals) that get swept downriver where it smothers aquatic wildlife habitats while threatening public water supplies.

Head cutting erosion from in-stream dredging operations is an extremely destructive hydrological impact. The persistent lowering of the riverbed (by physical removal) makes the adjacent and upstream riverbanks stand taller than they stood formerly, which lets the river's current undercut them and collapse them into the main channel. River current then progressively moves those previously stable aggregates down into the dredging site where the material is vacuumed out and sold for immense profit.

People who own floodplain property as far as 8 miles upstream of a dredging site will witness progressive collapse of their streambanks due to head cutting erosion unleashed by the dredging operation; these landowners suffer a loss of acreage. Where did their land go? It got washed downstream into the clutches of a dredger, with no compensation paid to the landowner by the dredger.

Commercial in-stream mining is first of all an environmental menace. Moreover, due to the well-known mechanism by which headcutting erosion lays waste to the streambed and streambanks located far upstream of each individual mining site, any regulatory approval that would allow the introduction of a dredging operation on a flowing river is tantamount to officially approving a corporate act of felony theft on a multi-million dollar scale.

Christina Ruiz 2 years, 7 months ago

This is the link to the American Rivers site which lists all of the top 10 endangered rivers for 2012, the Kansas River included:

http://www.americanrivers.org/our-work/protecting-rivers/endangered-rivers/

Clicking on number 10, Kansas River, will take you to a form you can complete to send a message to the US Army Corps. And at the bottom right of that same page you can find a press release and river fact sheet.

Gotalife 2 years, 7 months ago

Very destructive practice. I am especially concerned about the pollutants it stirs up from the bottom of the river. Pretty pathetic way to make a buck!

Jeff Kilgore 2 years, 7 months ago

The majority of Kansans believe that if 10 people can make money, it doesn't matter if two million people lose a more sustainable way of life. There is money to be made. This trumps all: the people have spoken, or better, have been told what to speak, and this is how they vote. I fail to see the problem.

Sunflower Coal, for the win!

jhawkinsf 2 years, 7 months ago

Just curious, but what happens if the pollutants are left undisturbed? Some percentage must certainly be released during floods or if they become exposed during times of drought, etc. Anyone know what that percentage might be?

Jayhawk1958 2 years, 7 months ago

All in the name of "Free Enterprise", the "American Dream"! Seriously though, that river is worse then is talked about. I can't understand how you can fish that thing. Even getting a splash of water on you can cause damage. Thats how polluted it is.

Jeff Kilgore 2 years, 7 months ago

The destruction of the environment continues everywhere: Gold Rush sweeps Latin America.

http://phys.org/news/2012-05-gold-latin-america-amazon.html

Quite ugly.

Clark Coan 2 years, 7 months ago

So, why can't they mine sand along the riverbank (but leaving the riparian habitat alone)? There is plenty of sand in the floodplain.

Christina Ruiz 2 years, 7 months ago

That is certainly an option outside the riparian zone. We all need sand, but there are ways to get it that have less impact on our drinking water supplies, environment and recreation. Some dredgers have moved to pit mining Kaw sand with positive reports of not only being able to work year round and gain more profits because of it, but for also having the benefit of not having river water levels dictate safety concerns of employees and in-river equipment.

Jeff Kilgore 2 years, 7 months ago

If a few hundred people can make money, it fails to matter if the pollution harms other life forms, the environment in general, or cheapen the lives of millions of people. The connected, our most worshipful job creators, must have their way. And just like the Sunflower Clean Coal Church, they will win. There really is no argument here: a few make money, everyone else loses. This is how Kansans play the game.

I'm surprised anyone cares at all. The haves win everything. The have-nots cannot win. This is the great contradiction of our downtrodden but ironically contented conservative base: they continue to vote for policies that harm themselves and their children most of all.

verity 2 years, 7 months ago

Eventually the masses fight back---and the results aren't pretty. When it ends that way, nobody wins.

Jayhawk1958 2 years, 7 months ago

"they continue to vote for policies that harm themselves and their children most of all."

Nobody could have said it better.

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