COMMENTARY- Are we asking the right questions about our water stategy?

The general public has questioned Marion County’s commitment of $75,200 as the nonfederal contribution to conduct the assessment study at Marion Reservoir, and whether that money could be put to better use.

The questions we should be asking are:

Where will the public water supply come from if Marion Reservoir continues to be filled with sediment at the current rates?

How will Marion County replace the sales tax dollars generated by the visitors coming to the Marion Reservoir for fishing, hunting, camping and other activities?

The estimated rate of sediment entering the reservoir is 250 acre feet annually. That’s the equivalent of 250 football fields covered in one foot of sediment.

Where is the sediment coming from? We know there is more than 40,000 acres of “highly erodible land” in the 232,000 acres of the reservoir watershed. We also know our rainfall does not always come in a slow, gentle manner with an inch or two at a time. Sometimes thunderstorms unleash 4 to 10 inches of hard rain in a short period.

Farmers and ranchers in the watershed are aware of these occurrences and implement water quality, erosion control practices to stop the loss of soil on the lands. But is the erosion coming from more than just our fields?

The assessment study will collect baseline data to establish if the sediment may be coming from stream banks and/or the shoreline of the reservoir.

A rapid-assessment model, conducted by Kansas State University, will indicate possible areas where greater amounts of sediment are entering the tributaries. These areas will be designated “high priority areas” and receive additional consideration for “best management practices” (BMPs) for water quality.

What about the high nutrient load that causes the blue-green algae bloom at the reservoir? Is it from nutrients already in the sediment at the bottom of the reservoir, or the nutrients attached to the new sediment deposited annually?

An estimated 396,121 vistors came to Marion Reservoir in 2006. A 2005 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report estimated visitors spent $6.8 million within a 30-mile radius of reservoir, in any direction.

The local economy captured 56 percent of this spending in direct sales to tourism and related businesses. These sales generated $1.44 million in direct personal income and supported 109.99 direct jobs.

With the multiplier effect, the spending generated $4.95 million total sales, $1.81 million in total personal income and supported 127.48 jobs.

If Marion Reservoir continues in its full eutrophic condition and visitors have no desire to come, how will the loss of sales tax dollars be replaced?

During the past four years, $286,439 WRAPS funding, plus $243,260 in nonfederal contribution match, has implemented 131 BMPs in the watershed. Following is a list of those practices:

Terraces: 298,779 feet (54.1 miles);

Critical-area planting: 49 acres;

Pasture/hay planting: 199 acres;

Diversions: 2,924 cubic yards;

Livestock diversions: 825 cubic yards;

Grassed waterways: 150 acres;

Rangeland planting: 1,216 acres;

Cover crop: 14 acres;

Alternative water source: 5 units;

Bank repair: one unit;

On-site wastewater systems 11 units;

Livestock waste systems: four units .

The above does not include BMPs implemented through U.S.D.A. farm-bill programs such as Environmental Quality Incentive Program, WHIP, or the Conservation Reserve Program’s acres of grass and forbs in conversion of marginal cropland to grass, waterways, filter strips and other buffers.

The list does include BMPs that were paid for in part with funding through the state soil conservation programs of Nonpoint Source (NPS) for on-site wastewater systems and livestock waste systems or the total maximum daily load (TMDL) funds received because Marion Reservoir was designated a “high priority area” by the Kansas Department of Health and Enivronment.

In 2007, the Marion Reservoir WRAPS project will receive $190,000 in grant funds and will require $126,666 in nonfederal contribution. KDHE will provide $95,000 of the grant funds and the Kansas Water Office, Kansas Water plan will provide the remaining $95,000.

Most of the 2007 grant funds will be used to conduct the first year of the assessment study of the watershed.

Do we need the study to do a better job of placing BMPs in the watershed?

Do we know if our only solution is dredging the reservoir because of the nutrient load in the bottom sediment?

How can we present facts to our federal and state government entities for additional assistance if the needed information is not available?

Do we need to do as much as we can with some local nonfederal contribution now, while the funding is available?

Is there any other solution or do we care?

Peggy Blackman is coordinator of the Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy (WRAPS) program for Marion Reservoir.

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