Issues Overview

Water Quality Risk – Much of the water quality in the 10,298-square-mile Grand Lake watershed is at risk from elevated levels of nutrients/phosphorus. We believe water quality will continue to decline during the next 10 years unless drastic action is taken and improvement projects are completed.

It’s not an easy task. The Grand Lake watershed is a large complex watershed located in parts of Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Our watershed has regional and national economic importance. Yet it presently lacks the level of priority and financial commitment necessary to prevent further degrading of water quality.

This Alliance is dedicated to restoring good water quality and preventing further impairment of our watershed lakes, streams and rivers. Having good water quality is essential to protect our water supplies and access to recreational boating, fishing, and swimming, as well as protecting the water-related environs.

The Risks of Nutrient/Phosphorus Pollution

What exactly is the pollution risk caused by elevated levels of nutrients/phosphorus? The fact is, high levels can cause algae blooms that prevent sunlight from reaching underwater plant life and adversely affect other organisms. When the blooms decompose, they consume oxygen and lead to dissolved oxygen levels that are too low to sustain fish and marine life. Potentially, the water becomes unlivable for many organisms.

Algae blooms also can create an unpleasant water taste, requiring a costly water treatment process. In some instances, algae blooms can become harmful. About a dozen or so species can create toxins causing health issues that impair recreational uses and water supplies. This scenario occurred in 2005 at the Marion Reservoir, located in Kansas within the Grand Lake watershed. Communities were forced to bring in potable water and Marion’s beaches were closed.

Focus of the Alliance

Our Foundation works to reduce the risk from elevated phosphorus/nutrient levels that fuel algae growth and rapid reproduction. In November 2007, the Foundation prepared an assessment of the watershed and published a Grand Lake Watershed Plan, documenting the elevated levels of nutrients/phosphorus. Not only are our rivers and streams at risk, but the four major watershed reservoirs of Marion, Council Grove, John Redmond, and Grand Lake are at risk. Clearly, only a cooperative and collective effort among government, watershed stakeholders, and citizens within the watershed can reduce phosphorus/nutrient loads. Sediment movement within the watershed only increases pollution risks because the sediment transports nutrients/phosphorus and bacteria. River and stream banks are prone to stream bank erosion which fosters sediment movement. Sediment also fills streams and reservoirs, reducing their overall capacity.

Building Citizen Involvement

Citizens and stakeholders must take an active role in shaping the future of their watershed. They must become energized, educated and involved. Watersheds that have active citizens cause improvements to be made in their water quality. Citizens must insure their community leaders; local, state, and federal government leaders; and stakeholders are taking the actions necessary to protect water quality. This Alliance can help citizens become actively involved. There is a simple but direct question that must be asked of every state legislator, every community leader, every U. S. congressman, and every city and county government leader. “What are you doing to help restore and protect our water quality?”

The Alliance’s Strategic Plan

In October 2009, the Alliance completed a Strategic Plan that serves as a water quality improvement roadmap. The plan outlines necessary actions for protecting and improving our rivers, streams, and lakes. The Strategic Plan presents solutions and courses of action that will result in improved water quality. Unfortunately, many citizens do not know about the pollution risks to their rivers, steams and lakes. Consequently, we believe public education is a key strategy for achieving improved water quality.

Improving Interstate Cooperation

As outlined in our Strategic Plan, we believe there must be improved interstate communication and cooperation among our four watershed state governments of Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. This collaboration is essential, especially because there is no single governmental entity in charge of achieving water quality improvement in the entire watershed. Each state often has different priorities, objectives and financial commitment. Presently, each state makes its own independent decision about what, if anything, is done to improve water quality. The four states do not agree about the amount, if any, funds will be invested in their respective portion of the watershed. Consequently, there presently is not a unified, coordinated, and collective effort for reducing the pollution risks from nutrients/phosphorus. In the meantime, pollution risks are mounting. The Alliance is committed to help achieve interstate cooperation and coordination.

Achieving Effective Watershed Management

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The Role of Agriculture

The Grand Lake watershed is largely agricultural, with a population of about 500,000 people. A key element in improving water quality is for more agriculture stakeholders, including the poultry industry, to adopt best land-management practices. These practices would reduce pollution from nutrients/phosphorus and sediment movement. We recognize that agriculture interests historically have wanted to be good stewards of the land. However, it can be costly to implement voluntary water-quality improvement projects necessary for reducing risks from nutrients and stream bank erosion. Therefore, the Alliance believes that financial incentives must be offered to agriculture landowners to encourage their voluntary support for measures resulting in improved water quality.

Wastewater Treatment Plants

Historically, the discharge of nutrients/phosphorus from community wastewater treatment plants into the watershed has been a source of pollution. While these plants are normally regulated by state permits and state laws/regulations, their total impact on water quality in this watershed remains unmeasured. Further impact study and analysis is required in our watershed.

Forming Local Citizen-Based Organization

Both the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency and state governments encourage the participation of citizens in the management of their watershed. While some citizen-based organizations have been formed in the Grand Lake watershed, much of the watershed lacks such groups. This Alliance has pledged its support for local citizen-based organizations. Indeed, we encourage all citizens to join and support their local watershed organizations.

The Need for Private Funding

The Alliance believes private funding must be obtained to supplement and support water quality improvement efforts. This is especially important for funding educational efforts throughout the watershed. This Alliance was created in part to provide stakeholders, business interests, and individuals an opportunity to provide financial assistance for improving water quality.

Developing Sub-Watershed Plans

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires that separate, individually tailored sub-watershed plans be prepared and accepted by the EPA for rivers, streams, and lakes within the large Grand Lake watershed. This step is necessary before federally funded projects to improve water quality can be funded and implemented. Citizen-based groups are required to be involved in the preparation of these individual sub-watershed plans. This lengthy and cumbersome process can take seven to 10 years from the time citizen groups are formed to the time watershed plans are accepted and federally funded by the EPA. The Alliance believes this process takes too much time and, most importantly, will not result in the collective and cooperative effort necessary to reduce nutrient/phosphorus.

Another, more effective, approach must be taken to combat the risks associated from elevated nutrient/phosphorus. We believe the EPA should adopt a more expedited, focused, and simplified approach to reducing the pollution risks caused by elevated levels of nutrients/phosphorus within a watershed of this size and economic importance. The Alliance believes any delay or failure to adopt a unified and collective watershed-wide solution only adds to mounting pollution pressures facing the Grand Lake watershed.