Kansas is doing some of the best work in the nation on watershed planning, according to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency.
To qualify for EPA and state funding nowadays, high-priority watersheds need a comprehensive plan that addresses nine specific elements. These analyses result in cost-effective strategies to reduce pollutants affecting the water quality of the watershed.
One strategy, for example, might target agricultural areas that can benefit from implementing "best management practices." It will include estimates of the pollution-load reductions that adoption of the practices could achieve over time.
In early August, EPA's Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds released its assessments of 49 such plans submitted from across the United States. Kansas' led the list of the four top scorers.
"It provides an excellent example of how to develop and write a watershed-based plan," according to the EPA assessment.
The Kansas plan addressed the present and planned future for the drainage areas that feed into the lower Big Blue and Little Blue rivers. (The upper Blues are in Nebraska.) Those rivers, in turn, feed into the 12,500-acre Tuttle Creek Reservoir, the state's second largest impoundment, which provides flood control and outdoor recreation north of Manhattan.
"The EPA's accolade is a testimony to the local efforts by landowners and stakeholders in truly addressing their watershed's restoration needs … and to the team of K-State Research and Extension specialists who facilitated the process and captured those needs in a well-written plan. They exhibited great teamwork and focused on solutions," said Daryl Buchholz, associate director, K-State Extension and Applied Research.
Three of K-State's technical-support team are with the Department of Agricultural Economics and its Office of Local Government: John Leatherman, director; Robert Wilson , watershed planner; and Josh Roe , watershed economist. Other team members are Susan Brown , research assistant with the Kansas Center for Agricultural Resources and the Environment (KCARE), and Aleksey Sheshukov , watershed modeler with the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering.
KCARE's grant specialist, Randy Griffith, helped with the Tuttle Creek plan, as did KCARE Director Dan Devlin, who is also in charge of the Kansas Water Resources Institute (KWRI).
EPA's recognition also demonstrates that the plan-writing approach we've developed in Kansas is truly on track," said Jaime Gaggero, environmental scientist with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
The KDHE's Watershed Management Section leads the state's efforts with a program named Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy (WRAPS). The program's aim is to bring together everyone who shares a strong interest in restoring and protecting Kansas water sources, Gaggero said.
The foundation of the WRAPS approach is supportive local Kansans with a vested interest in a particular watershed. They have the biggest stake in what happens to the watershed where they live. Their knowledge of the area's land uses is often key to successful plans. So, they're involved from the beginning.
These citizens form what the KDHE calls a Stakeholder Leadership Team (SLT). Most Kansans, however, simply call them WRAPS groups – as in the Tuttle Creek WRAPS. These groups often include landowners, district conservation group members, and city leaders – all volunteers.
The KDHE itself leads a state Work Group -- representatives of public and private organizations that also care about water. The group offers expertise, grant guidance, education and other support to the WRAPS program.
K-State Research and Extension is one of those Work Group partners. The university not only provides expertise for watershed plans but also helps by placing a full-time watershed specialist in each top-priority, WRAPS-identified drainage area. Also, K-State agricultural economists have been building a public-access bank of water-related spreadsheets and other resources since 2006.
"K-State's team has now helped other WRAPS groups who found the nine-element report too long or complex to do on their own. That's proving to be a high-functioning combination that's apparently putting Kansas in the lead on this nationwide effort," said Steven Graham, assistant to K-State Research and Extension's director, who's also dean of the College of Agriculture.
Environmental scientist Gaggero reported in early August that the KDHE and the Kansas WRAPS Work Group had approved 10 completed watershed plans. Six more were in for the KDHE to review and another 10 had been approved as making significant progress.