The Polluted Waters of Kansas

I grew up in a small town in Kansas. Down the street from my home, running through town, was a muddy little creek. It wasn’t much to look at. It was diked on both sides to prevent flooding. The grasses and weeds along the steep banks were always high and full of grasshoppers and butterflies and all the snake species of Kansas. I went there every day as a child, watching turtles and catching crawdads and fishing for sunfish and catfish and the occasional small bass. I loved that creek.

Today the Lawrence Journal-World ran a story about all the polluted waters in Kansas. It’s a story we see every year or so, so I’m used to reading it. Every other year the Kansas Department of Health and Environment must submit its list of “impaired waters” to the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s a paperwork exercise required by the Clean Water Act. Here is the report summary offered by the newspaper:

The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday announced it has approved Kansas’ list of 1,330 “impaired waters,” which represents a decrease from two years ago.

A water body is placed on the impaired waters list when monitoring finds that pollution levels prevent the lake, river, or stream from attaining its beneficial uses. In Kansas, beneficial uses include human recreatino, agricultural water supply, and maintaining healthy aquatic life.

Kansas is an agricultural state, and agriculture practices contribute to an awful lot of water pollution problems. There are ways to address the pollution issues – implement streamside buffers, reduce herbicide application, require more efficient water withdrawals for irrigation – but it will take a lot of will to change the way farming is done back home.

Unfortunately, this change is unlikely to occur soon. There just is not a constituency for clean waters in Kansas. River-based recreation is not a big thing, so people generally don’t care, and don’t even notice the water quality problems until it affects one of the big recreation lakes. But it’s unfortunate just the same. There are a lot of kids who are missing out on some great adventures.

The one bright spot from today’s news is that the small creek I grew up on was delisted as an impaired water body in this most recent report. Small miracles.



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