Running Dry | Solving Sediment Issues Comes At Price

ATCHISON CO., Kan. (WIBW) - The love David Royer has for his land near Arrington in rural Atchison County is obvious as climbs down the banks to the Delaware River and lets his two dogs go for a swim. The retired teacher owns 740 acres bordered by the water.

This, he proclaims, has been his fishing hole since childhood. It also was literally eating away his property.

"Over my lifetime, it's amazing the changes I've seen," Royer said. "As the river moves, our property line moves."

Lost Land
Royer said he was losing three to seven feet a year to erosion, depending how many times the water rose. Besides costing him personally, he also realizes the greater implications.

"That's a lot of tons of soil that ends up in Perry Lake," he said.

Sedimentation filling in the reservoirs is part of why the reservoirs had a predicted lifespan of 50 to 100 years. But with water supply, water quality, recreation dollars and more dependent on keeping soil from draining the space for water, landowners like Royer are being targeted as a first line of defense.

Selling WRAPS
A friend convinced Royer to find out about the Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategies program, or WRAPS. He admits he was skeptical of partnering with the government.

"I kinda like to do my own thing," he laughed.

Still, with some prodding, he signed up. Royer's land had three streambank sites identified in the top-ten for needing critical attention. Using grants, Royer paid five percent of the cost to shore up those sites. Crews dug in to change the slope of the bank, add rock and plant vegetation. They also started thousands of trees and other plantings in a buffer area extending from the bank, meant to catch any runoff from the land before it hits the downhill slope to the water.

The Kansas Water Office identified 171 streambank erosion sites above Perry and 403 above Tuttle Creek - the two reservoirs seeing the greatest sedimentation issues. The costs to stabilize just those are estimated at more than $33 million.

"It's not a cheap fix," admits Susan Metzger, chief of planning and policy for the Kansas Water Office, "but we know it has a lot of bang for our buck. Although it's an expensive practice, they really work."

Other Options
Slowing sedimentation is just one area of focus in the 50 Year Vision Plan for Kansas Water currently under development. It also suggests best practices for conservation and irrigation. Irrigation is the largest use of water from the Kansas Lower Republic Basin, responsible for 45 percent of the usage in 2011, followed by municipal use at 43 percent.

The draft report also mentions more expensive alternatives, like building new reservoirs or dredging. The challenge with dredging, though, is that it involves more than just simply digging out the sedimentation material.

Brian McNulty is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lake Manager at Tuttle Creek Reservoir, which has lost 40 percent of its capacity to sedimentation. He says the amount of material that would need to be removed is equivalent to seven and a half square miles that is, on average, 10 to 15 feet deep. McNulty says officials also are exploring ways to move more sediment through the lake, but they must balance any changes with how they might impact fish and wildlife in the lake.

The state is planning a dredging project in 2015 at John Redmond Reservoir in Coffey County. The state currently is looking to secure 500 acres for hauling what they expect to dig out. A Kansas Water Office report notes John Redmond is important not only for water supply. It also assists in cooling the Wolf Creek Generating Station. Without it, the report says buying electric power to replace what would be lost would cost nearly $23 million.

No matter what options are pursued, cost will be an issue. Metzger said Federal Recovery Act money that flowed several years ago allowed for completion of 20 to 30 WRAPS projects a year. Now, that's slowed to a trickle. Money from EPA grants channeled through KDHE, coupled with state matches and landowner investment is only enough for two to three projects a year.

"The price tag means that, over time, more people than the customers paying now would likely end up paying to really put in the solutions necessary," Metzger said.

Eye to the Future
Royer paid just shy of $10,000 for his three projects. Plus, he lost some farm land to the slope change and buffer area. He says he understands the objections people might have to paying any cost out of pocket and losing land, too. But, seeing the final result, he's convinced it was a good investment.

"The way I looked at it, I was gonna lose it anyhow at the rate it was going," he said. "I was going to continue to lose it and I got nothing. This way, I lost some, but I have a stable river and I'm not going to lose anymore."