This month, a dedicated group of professionals took an important step for the health of Kansas water resources. On Jan. 18, 2024, the Kansas Reservoir Sedimentation Task Force, made up of representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City and Tulsa districts, the Kansas governor’s office and the Kansas Water Office met for the first time as a formal working group in Topeka, Kansas.
The group was assembled to collaborate on a solution for a major challenge facing the Kansas River Basin — sedimentation in reservoirs across the basin.
Build-up of sediment in the lakes in Kansas is a cause of concern for many reasons. The Kansas River is used for drinking water supply, irrigation, municipal wastewater, power generation and more. The river basin provides benefits locally, regionally and nationally.
For the Kansas City District, sedimentation impacts all the authorized purposes of the district’s lakes, such as water supply, recreation, environmental stewardship and even flood risk management. However, the problem was not unanticipated according to John Shelley, a hydraulic engineer for the Kansas City District and one of the employees spearheading the task force initiative.
“[Sedimentation] is not unexpected, but it is a resource challenge for water resources in Kansas,” said Shelley. “Sediment will start impacting lake long before the lake is full of sediment.”
Sedimentation is a natural process, but it nevertheless poses difficulties. Sediment can deposit near the lake gates, making it difficult to raise the gates. In hydropower dams, sediment passing through can damage the equipment. Sedimentation can also cause erosion in beds and banks, lead to exposed pipelines and bridge piers and more.
“This is a big problem that will require big solutions that are going to cost real money. The best solutions will require innovation and research,” said Clint Mason, the technical support branch chief of the maintenance engineering section for the Kansas City District. “This a major focus in USACE right now, and we will continue to pursue innovations to address this challenge.”
Mason was one of the Kansas City District employees who attended the inaugural task force meeting. Colonel Travis Rayfield, Kansas City District commander and district engineer, also participated in the kick-off meeting. Rayfield acknowledged the challenges the task force faces and the impacts sedimentation has had, but reminded the team of the accomplishments they’ve already achieved in working to address these issues.
“You can see sedimentation impacting the environment in a lot of ways,” Rayfield said. “[However], we’ve had some recent success … with the Kansas Water Office, and we’ve partnered well with Tulsa District in the past. I look forward to seeing where we can go together with this effort.”
Rayfield also charged the team to look for where they can expand on their lessons learned from this initiative. He expressed his thanks to the Kansas Water Office for leading the effort and shared his appreciation for the partners on this effort.
The partnership between the Kansas City District and the Tulsa District is important, especially in preparing for extreme weather events, including droughts, according to Eugene Goff, with the Tulsa District’s Kansas Area Office.
“This Sediment Task Force Partnership represents a positive step forward in securing the future of our water resources for the betterment of the state of Kansas and the nation,” said Goff. “It is my anticipation that what we can accomplish here together will lay the groundwork for other areas, agencies and districts to do the same.”
As this was the first meeting of the task force, the team spent much of the time brainstorming and building a plan. Communication and partnership were emphasized throughout. The team discussed drafting strategic plans for each lake, securing funding for the plans, piloting new sediment management technologies and incorporating national and even international expertise.
“We need to ensure that we are exploring all opportunities to address sedimentation and the impacts it is having and will have in the future,” Mason said. “We have confidence in the collective team to tackle this issue and find some paths forward.”