Our Watershed at Risk

The Alliance’s Strategic Plan identifies important strategic initiatives that we believe are necessary to improve water quality. A cornerstone for formulating the Strategic Plan was the 2008 Alliance Grand Lake Watershed Plan.

Grand Lake Watershed Alliance Foundation Strategic Plan

The Alliance’s Strategic Plan outlines essential strategic initiatives that will help to meet the many challenges ahead. We present solutions, courses of action, and the organizational structure necessary to reverse unsatisfactory water quality conditions. As a practical matter, the Alliance views the Strategic Plan as a business model designed to preserve, protect, and improve the water quality of our economically significant watershed.

Strategic Objectives

Most of the first strategic steps advanced by the Alliance focus on the essential building blocks required for improving water quality. These initiatives are grouped into three categories: 1. Governmental Initiatives; 2. Addressing Pollutants; and 3. Citizen-Based Activities.

Governmental Initiatives

OBJECTIVE 1: Materially improve interstate governmental cooperation. It will be necessary for a formal agreement between the four watershed states that each will adopt and fund programs and initiatives that will result in reducing the pollution risks from nutrients/phosphorus and sediment movement.

Any reduction of sediment/nutrient pollution loads will require a collective effort within this watershed. Formal agreements among the four state governments that specifically apply to our watershed will be necessary. An agreement will result in common priorities, objectives, and funding measures as well as insuring continuing cooperation. Cooperative efforts, however, must include citizens, agriculture and business interests. Financial incentives will assist in voluntary cooperation to achieve pollution load reductions. Sewage Treatment Plants may require upgrades. Current applicable state regulations need to be reviewed and analyzed as to adequacy to reduce pollution. Appropriate enforcement of existing laws and regulations must occur by responsible governmental agencies.

OBJECTIVE 2. Achieve a unified United States Environmental Protection Agency focus on the total Grand Lake four-state watershed. Efforts to improve water quality will be better served when the EPA adopts an organizational structure that provides a single watershed management approach to the Grand Lake watershed. The watershed presently is located within the boundaries of two separate EPA Regional offices. Kansas and Missouri are within EPA Region 7 in Kansas City and Arkansas and Oklahoma are within EPA Region 6 located in Dallas Texas. This separated organizational structure hampers a total streamlined watershed focus by the EPA.

OBJECTIVE 3: Achieve a higher priority for water quality improvements by federal, state and local governments within the total watershed. The degradation of water quality is a real risk within the watershed unless drastic steps are taken and higher priorities are established.

OBJECTIVE 4: Increase federal, state, and local funding within the watershed to achieve water quality improvements. This is a large and complex watershed facing pollution risks. Improvement projects will be costly. This will require the active involvement by U. S. Congressional Representatives and U. S. Senators, governors, state legislatures and local governments. Private funding must also be engaged in the improvement effort.

Addressing Pollutants

OBJECTIVE 1: Conduct a watershed-wide targeting study to include sediment/nutrient (phosphorus) modeling and stream-bank stability studies. A watershed-wide targeting study and stream-bank erosion study are necessary to identify those land areas and/or pollution sources that are contributing the most to water pollution. Water quality improvement projects are costly investments that must achieve the best cost-benefit ratio possible.

OBJECTIVE 2: Reduce elevated sediment/nutrient levels within watershed rivers and streams. Phosphorus is the nutrient with the greatest potential for significant reductions. The Neosho River serves as a surface water supply to communities. A Spring River tributary, Shoal Creek, serves as a water supply to Joplin, Missouri; and the Spring River serves as a partial water supply for Baxter Springs, Kansas. Rivers and streams also flow into the four major watershed reservoirs and are a major source of sediment/nutrients flowing into the reservoir lakes. The Elk River is a significant recreational venue and currently is impaired from elevated nutrients. Phosphorus loads should be reduced in the Elk River watershed by 64% and the nitrogen loads reduced by 42%.

OBJECTIVE 3. Reduce sediment movement in watershed rivers and streams. Sediment is one of the primary pollutants in the Neosho/Grand River sub-watershed but both the Spring and Elk Rivers also are sediment pollution contributors. Sediment is filling our streams, rivers and reservoirs with soil that is rich in nutrients and organic matter. Sediment smothers the natural habitat needed for fish and other aquatic organisms, reduces water supply, increases flooding, destroys wildlife habitat and reduces land values. John Redmond Reservoir in Kansas currently has lost about 39% of its original storage capacity. Grand Lake O’ The Cherokees is impaired by turbidity, much of which is caused by sediment flowing into Grand Lake. With best management practices for rangeland and pasture, reduced tillage on cropland, and proper restoration and maintenance of riparian areas, the amount of sedimentation can be greatly reduced.

OBJECTIVE 4: Reduce the elevated sediment/nutrient levels within the four watershed reservoirs: Marion, Council Grove, John Redmond, and Grand Lake O’ The Cherokees. Phosphorus loads should be reduced by 75% at Marion Reservoir to meet water quality standards. Marion has a history of elevated levels of phosphorous that contributed to harmful algae blooms. Phosphorus loads need to be reduced by 94% and nitrogen loads should be reduced 58% at Council Grove Reservoir to meet water quality standards. Also phosphorus loads need to be reduced by 21% and nitrogen loads reduced by 60% at John Redmond Reservoir to meet water quality standards. In addition, the water pollution risk to Grand Lake O’ The Cherokees caused from elevated nutrients should be substantially reduced because the lake is impaired from low dissolved oxygen levels. These four reservoirs are the source of community water supplies and also serve as significant recreational venues.

OBJECTIVE 5: Create a watershed Health Index. The Index measures selected water quality categories and shows changes in an understandable overall index. This Index will enable citizens to monitor water quality conditions and identify changes in water quality.

Citizen-Based Initiatives

OBJECTIVE 1: Support the organization and maturing of local citizen-based organizations within the watershed. Both federal and state governments encourage the participation of citizens in the management of their watershed. The watershed currently has a significant portion of the watershed without local citizen-based organizations. The Alliance will support the organization and maturing of these local organizations that are essential for citizen participation in the management of their specific portions of the watershed.

OBJECTIVE 2: Support the development of individually tailored Sub-watershed Plans. Current EPA guidelines require an individual Sub-watershed Plan be prepared for streams and water bodies before a water quality improvement project will receive federal funds. Presently, there are only a few of these EPA-accepted plans within the watershed. These Sub-watershed Plans also require the involvement of citizen-based organizations.

OBJECTIVE 3: Energize citizens and leadership interests in preserving, protecting, and improving the water quality throughout the watershed. Also establish a public education program throughout the watershed. The key to achieving water quality improvement is engaging citizen and community leaders to become involved in the management of their watershed. Alliance educational materials such as videos, brochures, and other public awareness materials are essential to expand citizen education.

OBJECTIVE 4. Establish watershed signage that visibly shows the boundaries of the total watershed as well as sub-watershed boundaries. Marking watershed boundaries with public signs fosters the educational process. It also serves to establish citizen responsibility and ownership of the watershed, thereby encouraging citizen involvement.

In General

The purpose of the Grand Lake Watershed Alliance Foundation is to protect the water quality within the 10,298-square-mile Grand Lake watershed, which is located in portions of Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. This large and complex watershed has a significant regional economic impact. Yet, it presently lacks the level of priority necessary to prevent further degrading of the water quality.

Elevated levels of sediment and nutrients (primarily phosphorus) constitute a general water pollution risk throughout the watershed. These elevated levels can cause algae blooms that prevent sunlight from reaching underwater plant life, which adversely affects other organisms. When the blooms decompose, they consume oxygen and create areas where dissolved oxygen levels are too low to sustain aquatic life. This process causes water to become fairly unlivable for other organisms. Often blooms create an unpleasant water taste that is costly to eliminate. This process causes water to become fairly unlivable for other organisms.

In some instances, algae blooms can become harmful. About a dozen or so species can create toxins, causing health issues that impair water supplies and recreational uses. The Alliance focus is to reduce this pollution risk from elevated nutrient levels that fuel algae growth and rapid reproduction. Only a cooperative and collective effort within the watershed can reduce nutrient loads.

Sediment movement within the watershed primarily increases pollution risks because the moving sediment transports nutrients and bacteria. Its physical presence also alters the aquatic habitat. River and stream banks are prone to stream bank erosion which fosters sediment movement. Sediment also can fill streams and reservoirs, thus reducing their capacity.

Agriculture is economically important in our watershed. Watershed land use is mostly agriculture with about 36% planted pasture, 21% natural grassland, and 20% cropland. Forests make up about 14% of the watershed; 6% is characterized as developed/urban area; and about 3% is open water and wetlands.

Agriculture is a source of nutrients (phosphorus) and will play an important role in achieving water quality improvement. Agriculture interests historically have practiced conservation and have been good stewards of the land. Now their focus should also include the protection of water quality. Financial incentives, however, will be needed to foster widespread voluntary implementation of water quality improvement projects. Agriculture stakeholders must be encouraged to use good land management practices that incorporate sediment/nutrient management procedures and protocols.

Wastewater treatment plants are another source of nutrients (phosphorus) from discharges into watershed waters. These plants are subject to governmental regulation and compliance review. What remains unknown, however, is the cumulative watershed-wide effect from pollution discharges from these plants. Further analysis and study is required.

The importance of proper storm-water management has become apparent in recent years. Pollutants from storm water runoff do impair water quality. New Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements for smaller communities, similar to the majority of those in our watershed, are being developed. It is important that these efforts be taken seriously and integrated into the overall management of water quality. Pollutants from storm water runoff do impair water quality.

Population growth within the watershed brings heightened concerns. The population within the Kansas portion of the watershed has remained relatively stable. However, population increases are occurring in the Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arkansas portions of the watershed – leading to increased pollution pressures and risks.

Our watershed not only is located within parts of four states; it also is divided between two separate EPA Regional Administrators. Oklahoma and Arkansas are part of EPA Region 6 and Kansas and Missouri are part of EPA Region 7. This complex state and federal governmental organizational structure hinders governmental unity of purpose. Reducing pollution risks caused by sediment/nutrients requires common objectives and common priorities. Our watershed currently has few EPA-accepted Sub-watershed Plans; the vast majority of the watershed is without benefit of individual stream watershed plans. In November 2008, the Alliance prepared a Watershed Plan, which was based upon an analysis of impaired waters. This plan, which was forwarded to both EPA Regional Offices and water quality-related state agencies, concluded that drastic steps must be taken to improve water quality. It also emphasized that a higher priority must be given to the watershed in order to improve water quality. Otherwise, the plan noted, there is a real risk that water quality will continue to degrade over the next 10 years.