Cities asked to contribute to lake study

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
The coordinator of the watershed restoration project at Marion Reservoir made a plea Wednesday for cities in Marion County to contribute to the matching funds needed to determine the progress made so far to improve the reservoir’s water quality.

About 15 city and county officials gathered in the basement of Marion City Hall to hear state experts review water quality issues at the local reservoir, and then to hear about the need for city involvement in funding the needed study.

Peggy Blackman, coordinator of the Watershed Restoration & Protection Strategy (WRAPS) program for Marion Reservoir, said local entities need to come up with $75,200 to qualify for $112,000 in federal grant funds.

Blackman said Marion County commissioners had agreed the previous week to generate the $75,200 by adding 1 mill to its 2007 budget.

But she said commissioners also indicated they would like the cities-specifically Hillsboro and Marion, who operate water-treatments that use reservoir water-to split half of that amount between them.

“It would be really, really nice if the cities…would look at helping to share the cost of this assessment,” Blackman said.

“It’s not just this first year; it’s going to be ongoing for a number of years so we can conduct the monitoring that will be necessary to determine if we are actually decreasing (the problems) in the watershed that affect the water quality.”

Blackman said the funding could be needed for as long as four years to complete the study, and then beyond that for ongoing monitoring of the lake water.

one of the city representatives at the meeting responded to Blackman’s request for funding during the meeting.

Blackman acknowledged that all budgets are tight, including her own. But she described the study as a “first step in a long process” that could lead to better water quality the county will need in the future.

“My plea tonight is that we all need to get on the same page with this effort,” Blackman said. “When and if we need to go further, all this information (from the proposed study) will be utilized in the next step. It is not a waste.

“Unless we work cooperatively with this, I don’t know how we want to continue with this in the next year, or even to be able to do what we need to do this year.”

Prior to Blackman’s pitch, representatives from three agencies talked about issues of water quality at Marion Reservoir and current efforts through the WRAPS program to improve the water by helping producers implement land-management practices that reduce the run-off of phosphates and soil that has contributed to a bloom of poisonous blue-green algae at the lake the past three years.

The resource persons at Wednesday’s meeting were Rob Beilfuss, an environmental scientist with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Debra Baker, an environmental scientist with the Kansas Water Office, and Chris Mammoliti, an aquatic biologist with The Watershed Institute Inc.

In his presentation, Mammoliti used the analogy of a bucket of water with holes in it to explain the ultimate purpose of the proposed study.

“We’re trying to plug the biggest holes in the bucket is what it boils down to,” he said. “We’ve got problems (at the reservoir)-we know that. We just don’t know where we can get the most bang for the buck in implementing the various plans and (best management practices).

Baker said the algae problem is not unique to Marion Reservoir. The 10 federal reservoirs in Kansas that are part of the state’s water-marketing program are all experiencing it.

Baker also reported that these same 10 reservoirs are projected to lose 20 percent of their available capacity by the year 2040 because of sedimentation.

Baker said the aim of programs like WRAPS is to slow the sedimentation process-which appears to be the only affordable option for cities looking to reservoirs to supply water for their long-term future.

Baker said dredging sediment from existing reservoirs in order to increase capacity is cost prohibitive, and finding sites to build new reservoirs would be challenging because the best sites have already been taken.

“It’s not a hopeless situation,” Baker said about the long-term prospect of providing drinkable water for Kansas cities. “We just didn’t pay attention (to sedimentation) for a long time.”

Blackman said she feels Marion County is positioned well in the battle to provide and improve its water supply.

“I really think we’re ahead of the game compared to a lot of other places because we’ve been in the implementation stage (of conservation practices through WRAPS) for a number of years, and we’ve had a tremendous buy-in from the producers from within the watershed.

“It’s working, but we need to work together cooperatively in order to accomplish more and to stay on track so we continue to be ahead of the game.”

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