Study says reservoir water OK, but can be improved

The water quality in Marion Reservoir is good, and now local leaders want to take steps to keep it that way

After a two-year study to determine the water quality of the Marion Reservoir and its watershed, it was decided at a public meeting Friday in Marion to proceed with Phase 2 of the project to develop a water quality plan for the reservoir.

The purpose of Phase 2 would be to look at ways to protect the reservoir from sediment deposits over the long term.

?The way I see a Phase 2 happening is that the committee currently formed to put the first phase together needs to be expanded to include more people who live within the watershed,? said Bruce Wells, with the Flint Hills Resource Conservation and Development Council.

Area leaders and groups agreed with the need to proceed with Phase 2.

?I think it?s essential we move ahead with it because there is not a lot of underground water around,? said Hillsboro?s mayor, Delores Dalke.

She said surface water is important to the area and the quality of the water in the reservoir needs to be maintained because half of Marion County will be drinking out of it.

Hillsboro and Marion already use the reservoir as their primary source, and Peabody will follow as soon as their new water line is constructed.

The plan to proceed was also supported by Marion County commissioners. ?As a county commissioner, I would fully support moving ahead with it,? said Linda Peterson.

The U.S. Conservation District also would like to move ahead with the project. The district?s concern is keeping the water quality at its current level and making sure it does not get worse.

Phase 2 would develop a water quality protection plan for the Marion Reservoir watershed. It would address the concerns raised from the study and seek funding and do applications of ideas.

The voluntary program is designed to raise awareness of everyone in the watershed of the concerns about water quality.

The decision was based on results from a number of tests, which basically showed the water in Marion Reservoir is in good condition.

Water-quality sampling was done at 25 stream sites in the watershed during a low-flow period in December 1998.

The study had four objectives: to the study, including assessing the water entering the reservoir; identify significant point-source discharges; identify areas of particular concern; and determine concentrations of selected water-quality constituents in outflow from the reservoir.

The the water rated well, some concerns were identified within the watershed.

According to the report, the median dissolved-solids concentration was higher than U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Secondary Maximum Contaminant Level drinking water guidelines.

Median nutrient concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus were lower than the guidelines, but phosphorus in the lake outflow was higher.

This could be an indicator of future water quality problems, according to the report.

Because of the time of testing, pesticides were low, but could be much higher at other times of the year.

Fecal coliform bacteria also was lower than KDHE criterion for non-contact recreation and less than contact recreation from the outflow site.

At two sites, including Canton, the density was greater than the criterion.

Although overall the quality was within normal ranges, several tests showed above-average results at the site near Canton.

It had elevated levels of dissolved solids, high sodium and chloride concentrations, consistently higher than average concentration of all nitrogen species and equaled the KDHE criterion for nitrite pus nitrogen concentration.

There also were above average amounts of ammonia.

All of the higher levels near Canton, were quickly diluted as water continued downstream, and would not cause any problems.

It is up to Canton and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to work out how to improve the quality of water in their area.

In addition to these tests, science students from Tabor College looked at organisms in the water at four sites?two areas below the dam, a site near Durham, and the outflow from the reservoir.

A rich variety of small organisms in the water column were found but few bottom-dwelling organisms were found.

The study concluded that although organisms are being added to the water, they are unable to survive on the heavily silted stream bottoms.

The study also was found that nitrate levels and coloform bacteria rose significantly in the streams after heavy rains, indicating runoff is a concern.

Max Terman of the Tabor biology department, said if buffer strips were placed around streams, the situation would improve.

?We need to put some native vegetation back where it was,? he said.

A final study focused on land use in the watershed within Marion County.

?I guess it says we still have a way to go on conservation,? said Gary Schuler, natural conservationist.

He mentioned four common-sense approaches to controlling run off: conservation tillage, crop nutrient management, weed and pest management and conservation buffers.

Phase 2 will attempt to educate people on these practices and work to improve the quality of water.

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