Water-quality discussion reveals few answers

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BY TOM STOPPEL
“Bad water is the same as no water if you can’t use it, so it behooves us to be good stewards of our water. Everyone who lives, operates or owns anything in the Marion (Reservoir) watershed has an interest in (our water quality) and is a stakeholder.”

Those words from Richard Basore, watershed field coordinator for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s Bureau of Environment Field Services, typified the sentiments of local and state officials who participated in a water-quality meeting Thursday night in the Marion City Auditorium basement.

The meeting was for the Marion Reservoir Watershed Restoration and Steering Committee to gather ideas on how the group should proceed in its quest to secure a water-quality control grant for Marion Reservoir.

Headed by Peggy Blackman, Marion County Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy (WRAPS) coordinator, the meeting featured representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Natural Resources and Conservation Services, KDHE, Kansas Water Offices, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Watershed Institute.

“This is going to be a multi-year project,” Blackman said. “It will require a considerable amount of local support as well as support from hopefully the WRAP’s program and other partners to share the cost.”

Water-quality issues

Tony Clyde, with the Corps of Engineers, gave mixed reviews of the current water quality at Marion Reservoir.

“From a pollutant standpoint from metal contamination, the lake is in good shape,” he said. “But you do have extremely high phosphorous levels and the blue-green algae problem.”

Clyde said the Corps is “interested in those kinds of water supply issues that have multiple impacts on recreation, on municipal supplies, industrial uses and fish and wildlife usage.”

Clyde said his agency continues “to collect algae samples and basically do a volume measure on what the bio-mass is.”

Conservation practices

Gary Schuler, Marion County district conservationist, said basic practices his office recommends to prolong the life expectancy of the reservoir include conservation buffers, filter strips, waterways, terraces and contour grass buffer strips.

Schuler said his office has been working effectively with producers to implement practices that help improve the quality of the water that flows into the lake.

“We’ve addressed most of our waste runoff from dairies and other livestock facilities,” he said. “We’ve implemented pollution controls with waste storage lagoons.”

Schuler said the entire Marion Reservoir Watershed recently was designated as a Prairie Chicken priority area.

“That means any farmer who has land with crop history that’s eligible for USDA programs can enroll those acres in the Conservation Reserve Program,” he said.

Producers can sign up for the CRP from March 27 through April 24.

Schuler said, “Basically the quality of water in the reservoir reflects what goes on out on the land whether it’s cropland, residential, urban, construction or whatever. Sediment is still considered the No. 1 non-point source pollution concern in this country.

“We can’t lose sight of the fact we have to take action,” he added. “Our goal is action in the watershed and a healthy watershed is the bottom line.”

KDHE partnership

Basehore said the KDHE is interested in being a partner with the Watershed Committee.

“Clean water is a basic necessity of life, it’s not an option,” he said. “You have to have it.”

Being a good neighbor is essential to ensure water quality for future generations, Basehore said.

“We’re all downstream from somebody, and we hope they’re being good stewards,” he said. “But we’re all upstream from somebody else, and they’re hoping we’ll be good stewards as well.”

Basehore cautioned that the blame for water contamination shouldn’t fall specifically on the shoulders of agriculture.

“You also have contaminants from storm water runoff, railroad tracks, yards, golf courses, industrial sites, landfills, parks, gardens, construction sites-we don’t stop to think about where all this comes from,” he said.

Siltation issues

Kansas Water Office representative Debra Baker said her agency is concerned about the capacity of local reservoirs.

“Siltation is a concern because as our capacity decreases, we have less water to distribute in our public drinking supply,” she said.

Baker said reservoir sedimentation has three main areas of impact: water supply, water quality and recreational impact.

“On that order, we’d like to prevent the initial sedimentation,” Baker said.

She offered several potential solutions.

“We can reduce the sediment load coming into the lake, we can raise the conservation pool to offset the uneven sediment distribution or we can dredge the sediment out of the lake.”

While dredging was listed as an option-and has been discussed in local coffee shops as an alternative solution-Baker said the cost is nearly prohibitive.

“The best cost estimate we have for that is a general cost of $5,600 to remove one acre foot of sediment,” she said.

Marion Reservoir is estimated to absorb 290 acre feet of sedimentation per year.

Blackman said the cost to dredge only two feet from the reservoir was estimated in 1997 to cost about $160 million-not including an additional $40 million to spread the dredge “because it’s considered a toxic waste.”

Blue-green algae bloom

Jennifer Graham, limnologist with the USGS, said the algae-bloom in Marion Reservoir isn’t site specific.

“The blooms like you have here are very common,” Graham said. “At least 50 countries worldwide have experienced poisonings associated with toxins and 32 states have reported poisoning incidents associated with bacterial toxins.”

Graham identified four major groups of toxins:

1. Dermatoxins, which causes skin rashes.

2. Cytotoxins, which are still being defined but affect cells.

3. Neurotixins, which affect the central nervous system.

4. Hepatotoxins, which affect things like the liver.

“In my studies in the past six or seven years, we wanted to develop a relationship between environmental factors and microcystin concentrations,” Graham said. “We want to figure out when we can expect to see high levels (of toxins) in our lakes.”

Pooling ideas

Toward the end of the meeting, Chris Mammoliti, aquatic biologist with the watershed institute, called upon participants to pool their ideas and implement a plan for a proposed grant.

“We need to know what areas we need to target for our grant application for the WRAPS program,” he said. “Water quality monitoring on inflows and at the headwaters of the reservoir are vital.

“We have a lot of entities that want to be a part of this process,” he said. “Now it’s just a matter of what’s important, who’s the best to do it, how much will it cost and how do we time this thing.”

Local responses

Hillsboro City Administrator Steve Garrett, who attended the meeting, said, “One thing that needs to be focused on and kind of got lost at the end of the meeting was that we still have a municipal and recreational component of the reservoir,” he said.

“The presence of phosphorous presents a great opportunity for the algae bloom. Those blooms and different chemical reactions take place that make for iron and manganese release, which are minerals we have to remove from the water supply.”

Garrett said the importance of the reservoir as a recreational tool is vital to the local economies of area cities, but cautioned the impetus of the committee shouldn’t focus on agriculture alone.

“We might be able to have the farmers take care of every bit of their share of the problem, but we might still have the problems,” Garrett said.

“We just don’t know where the base of our problem is coming from. It might be bigger than controlling sediment. We don’t know if it’s caused by natural causes, shoreline erosion or where it’s coming from,” he added. “We need data to show where the problems are.”

Marion City Administrator David Mayfield said the meeting did a good job of focusing on the best management practices available to area producers.

“The end result, as far as the finished water quality that’s coming out of our plants, we’re capable of treating those nutrients right now and both Hillsboro and Marion are doing that,” he said.

“I think (the nutrient load) is going to continue to be a problem; this problem started over 20 years ago, so it’s not something we’re going to turn around in one year.

“We’ve got to do a better job of trying to not load the reservoir with certain nutrients and a lot of that is coming from siltation, although I’m certainly not putting all the blame on the farmers because we can all do more to ensure better water quality that’s flowing into the reservoir,” he added.

“It’s also a concern that we keep the algae concentration to levels that are still safe for recreational contact with the water.”

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