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Cottonwood River, Mud Creek have water quality issues

Stakeholder team is being formed to remedy problems

Managing editor

Water quality is something most people don’t care about until it directly affects them. By that time, it may be too late to change the inevitable.

About a dozen Marion County residents attended a meeting Thursday to discuss water pollution issues.

Kim Ross of Marion cares because her children are avid swimmers and boaters, often using the Cottonwood River and Luta Creek for their recreation.

Rex and Margaret Wilson, also of Marion, care because their longtime home is located along Luta Creek. They have been concerned for some time about pollution in the creek.

Others in attendance were agriculture producers who were interested in participating in the discussion because they recognized the need for improvement. Some attended to find out what the fuss was about and whether they would be able to continue their farming practices.

Regardless of their reasons for attending, they all heard there are pollution issues that must be addressed.

“Mud (Luta) Creek has problems,” Robert Wilson of K-State Research and Extension said, in part because of contamination upstream in the Cottonwood River.

Marion County residents need to participate in developing a Cottonwood River watershed project to improve water quality in the Cottonwood River.

According to information provided by the watershed planner Mud Creek, which runs through the center of Marion and is the city’s secondary drinking water source, and the Cottonwood River are on a high priority list because of water quality conditions. Both have more bacteria in the water than the total maximum daily load allows.

Other contamination issues are atrazine in Mud Creek, phosphorous in the South Cottonwood River and in the Cottonwood River near Emporia, and sediment issues in the Cottonwood River near Plymouth.

Although atrazine use is seasonal, Wilson said it does stay in the water year-round.

The purpose of this particular meeting was not to discuss the potentially dangerous water levels but to determine ways to reduce toxins and improve quality. Discussion of the existing toxins will be at the next meeting in February when representatives of Kansas Department of Health and Environment and Kansas Water Office will explain the situation.

To form a Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy, known as WRAPS, Wilson and Josh Roe, also of K-State Research and Extension, said the plan needs to come from those with a vested interest — stakeholders — and those individuals need to attend a handful of meetings to determine a plan.

Agriculture producers were not the only ones to cause toxins in the waterway.

Chemicals that are applied on city lawns and golf courses, and even wild geese at Marion County Lake can cause toxins to appear in water.

What’s really going on?

John Redmond Reservoir near Burlington is on the receiving end of the Cottonwood River and its tributaries coming from Marion County and other counties. Toxins and erosion can cause problems, not only for those near the head of the waterways located in Marion County, but also at the end.

“We all live upstream from someone,” Wilson said.

Even though most projects are administered on a county level, this WRAPS project will identify ways to improve water quality in parts of Marion, Morris, Chase, Lyon, and Greenwood counties.

“Water doesn’t know county boundaries,” Wilson said.

Solutions

Part of the process is determining the practices that will be the most effective in reducing the pollution problems. Federal and state grant funds are available to assist in creating a plan and implementing programs.

With that information, a grant proposal would be submitted which could include best management practices, technical assistance, and educational information.

In the past, there has been $1.8 to $2 million per year available for these types of projects.

The first task for the stakeholder group would be to identify the needs of the watershed district. Long-term goals would be set after more information is gathered about water quality conditions.

Areas would be targeted to implement conservation practices — “getting the biggest bang for the buck.”

The costs and benefits of the conservation practices would be evaluated.

Conservation practices will be a large part of the plan with the hope that agriculture producers in the targeted watershed area will be willing to participate in the program.

The cost of implementing conservation practices was estimated at $277,405. The group determined targeting the placement of conservation practices is more cost effective than a random approach.

The ultimate goal is to reduce the amount of pollution going into the Cottonwood River and contaminating tributaries — including Luta Creek in Marion and John Redmond Reservoir in Coffey County.

Participation

A stakeholder team will meet about once a month in February, March, April, and again in the summer to review a draft plan.

The team would develop an annual work plan, select projects to receive cost-share funding, guide service providers in implementing projects, and evaluate the progress.

“This is your plan, not ours,” Roe said.

The plan would be locally driven and voluntary.

“No one (ag producers) will be forced to participate,” Wilson said, but the group hopes those producers with interests in the proposed watershed district would be willing to do so.

The plan does not include Marion Reservoir because there is already a WRAPS program in place to address water quality issues at the reservoir.

Last modified Feb. 4, 2010

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