Water | KCUR

Water

The several waterways that weave through Kansas City make a big impact on shaping The Metro. Especially after heavy rains. On this episode, we learn how flooding shaped our city.

Guests:

Missouri State Capitol Commission, Missouri State Archives

The Lake of the Ozarks is one of Missouri's most popular weekend getaways, which is what inspired Dan William Peek and Kent Van Landuyt to publish A People's History of the Lake of the Ozarks a couple of years ago.

The two authors say they hope that all visitors, true locals, newcomers or just weekend vacationers take the time to appreciate the lake not only for the amenities it offers today, but also for the nearly forgotten history that lies beneath the water.

Kansas water use is declining, according to a new report from the U.S. Geological survey.

In 2015, Kansas used on average more than 4 billion gallons of water each day. That’s down nearly 25 percent from 1990. Of that, 2.6 billion gallons per day are used for irrigation — a decrease of 36 percent from 1990.

“What we’re doing is great, it’s just not enough of it,” said Kansas Water Office Director Tracy Streeter.

Flying east to west over Kansas, the land transforms from lush green to desert brown. Rectangular farm plots fill in with emerald circles, the work of center-pivot irrigation.

Outside Garden City, in the middle of one of those circles, Dwane Roth scoops up soil to reveal an inconspicuous PVC pipe. It’s a soil moisture probe that tells Roth exactly how much water his crops need. The device is one of many new technologies designed to help farmers make the most of every drop.

“All that you have to do is open up your app,” said Roth. “It’s going to tell you, you don’t need to irrigate or you’re going to need to apply an inch within  six days.”

Segment 1: The state of water in Kansas.

About three years ago, there were major concerns for the future of water in Kansas. Now that a few years have passed, what does the availability of water look like today? 

Claire Verbeck / KCUR 89.3

Segment 1: Why a consent decree between Kansas City and the EPA is impacting how much you pay for sewer services.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

A panel of Kansas lawmakers says the Legislature should follow through on promised funding for water projects across the state.

Clay Masters / Iowa Public Radio

There’s a city council election in Des Moines soon, and voters have questions about the rivers where the city draws its water supply.

“Is (the water) safe to drink? Is it safe to consume?” candidate Michael Kiernan says he’s been asked.

The Des Moines Water Works spent more than $2 million over two years scrubbing high levels of nitrates from the water that goes to more than 500,000 customers. Cities like Des Moines that are surrounded by farmland worry the cost to treat water polluted by farm runoff is going to keep increasing. And the Trump administration already has rolled back some water rules and may have more in mind.

Gary White
Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3

In a world where 884 million people don’t have access to water and 2.2 billion people don’t have sanitary toilet facilities, ending the global water crisis seems like a lofty goal.

But Gary White—whose nonprofit organizations have so far reached 7 million people—believes providing access to safe water and sanitation for all people can be achieved in his lifetime.

Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3

You could be forgiven for not realizing there's an organization based in Kansas City that's helping people around the world gain access to sanitation and clean water. Today, we meet the CEO and co-founder of Water.org. Then, astrophysicist Angela Speck returns to discuss what the scientific community learned from the eclipse on August 21. We also find out what it was like for folks living in St. Joseph, Missouri, to play host to more than 80,000 total eclipse tourists.

Water is an in-demand commodity in Del Norte, Colorado.
Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

In the summer of 2002, water pumps in Colorado’s San Luis Valley stopped working.

The center pivot sprinklers that coax shoots from the dry soil and turn the valley into one of the state’s most productive agricultural regions strained so hard to pull water from an underground aquifer that they created sunken pits around them.

“This one right over here,” says potato farmer Doug Messick as he walks toward a sprinkler in the valley, near the town of Center. He's the farm manager at Spud Grower Farms. “I came up to it one day and I could’ve driven my pickup in that hole.”

Tech. Sgt. Linda Burger / Iowa National Guard

Midwesterners are used to extreme weather. We take pride in enduring everything from torrential downpours to the most desiccating drought.

Climate change is expected to increase the frequency of these fluctuations between drought and flood, though, according to new research published by scientists at the University of Kansas, and this "weather whiplash" will deteriorate the quality of drinking water.

Did you know John Adam's wife, Abigail, would hang wet laundry in the Public Audience Chamber? Or that Abraham Lincoln never slept in the Lincoln Bedroom? West Wing Reports founder and White House beat journalist Paul Brandus shares a history of The Oval Office and what it is like to cover the Trump administration.

Elle Moxley / KCUR 89.3

Whenever she takes people out on her boat, Vicki Richmond from the Healthy Rivers Partnership likes to ask if they know where their drinking water comes from.

“You’d be amazed how many people don’t know it’s the Missouri River,” says Richmond as members of the media clamber aboard. For Drinking Water Week, the Kansas City Water Department arranged to have Richmond show us the Missouri River.

(This reporter would like to state, for the record, she knew before today where our drinking water came from.)

Tim Samoff / Flickr - CC

Water rates in Kansas City, Missouri, have soared over the last several years. The average water bill has gone from $48 in 2009 to more than $100 today. 

That's due, in part, to infrastructure upgrades mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency. Those mandatory upgrades were not accompanied by federal dollars, which means the cost fell to rate payers. 

The Brazile Creek Groundwater Management Area encompasses 756 square miles of north-central Nebraska.
Ariana Brocious / For Harvest Public Media

At a nitrogen management class in the small town of Creighton, Nebraska, Tanner Jenkins shows a chart of groundwater data to a group of about 40 farmers. He points to a red line, which shows the level of chemical nitrates in groundwater over time.

“You can see we’re on a pretty steady upward click,” Jenkins, who works for a local groundwater district, tells the farmers.

Decades of intensive farming have contaminated the groundwater across many parts of Nebraska. A new plan may help farmers in the northeastern part of the state address the problem.

Alex Smith / KCUR

Pretty Prairie, Kansas, population 680, had a moment in the spotlight during the confirmation hearings for new Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt.

Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran mentioned Pretty Prairie as an example of a community that’s struggling because of EPA regulations that Pruitt could ease.

Sylvia Maria Gross / KCUR 89.3

Just before Thanksgiving last year, Monique Salazar came across a Facebook video from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota. The video depicted guard dogs attacking indigenous people standing in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The images struck her. Salazar had been scheduled to bartend for a Thanksgiving event, but she couldn't get the video out of her head. She called her boss to tell her she was sorry, but she had to go to North Dakota.

"She graciously told me to go home," Salazar says. "So go home I did."  

Andy Marso / Kansas News Service

The Kansas Geological Survey has spent years studying the groundwater levels of the Ogallala Aquifer to determine how long it can continue to support the western Kansas farm economy.

Now the leader of the agency says it’s time to start monitoring the aquifer that the Kansas River produces to see how long it can continue to provide drinking water to the growing population centers in the eastern part of the state.

Gwen's River City Images / Flickr--CC

It’s not a trick of the light – the water flowing from Kansas City taps is faintly pink.

The culprit? Too much sodium permanganate, a chemical added during the water treatment process.

“When the Missouri River has what we call a high color content, when there are a lot of silts and clays in the river, there may be some materials that some people find unappealing,” Mike Klender, plant manager, says. “Part of our treatment process is to use sodium permanganate to combat those taste issues.”

David Nichols / Flickr -- CC

We've heard about how climate change will affect the coasts (glaciers melting, New York City underwater and more). But what will happen in the Midwest? A look at what's at stake here, from our water supply to flooding to the Ozark forests.

Guests:

Tributaries that feed into the Missouri River often bring nitrates and pesticide runoff from farms into water that eventually dumps into the Gulf of Mexico.
Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

With the legal battle raging over the implementation of controversial Obama Administration clean water rules, the next president is likely to face the daunting task of formulating a comprehensive plan to cut-down on water pollution from Midwest farms.

Geologist Carrie Elliott takes the U.S. Geological Survey speedboat out on the Missouri River to monitor the water quality and habitat.
Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

Farming in the fertile Midwest is tied to an environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. But scientists are studying new ways to lessen the Midwest’s environmental impact and improve water quality.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasts the so-called “dead zone,” an area of sea without enough oxygen to support most marine life, to grow larger than the size of Connecticut, or roughly 6,000 square miles.  

Water is life — you drink it, cook with it and even shower in it — but unregulated runoff from farms and business can pose a threat to keeping it clean. A new series from Harvest Public Media, based at KCUR, looks at the conditions of water in Kansas City and throughout the Midwest.

Guests:

David Greene, Kansas City (Mo.) Water Services lab manager, stands on a platform of the water intake facility above the Missouri River.
Peggy Lowe / Harvest Public Media

Standing on a platform above the eastern bank of the Missouri River at the Kansas City, Missouri, Water Services’ intake plant is like being on the deck of a large ship.

Electric turbines create a vibration along the blue railing, where David Greene, laboratory manager for Kansas City Water Services, looks out across the river. Water the color of chocolate milk is sucked up and forced through screens below, picking up all the debris the river carries downstream.  

Nebraska farmer Noah Seim evaluates a corn field where cover crops were grown between rows in an effort to improve the quality of both the soil on his farm and water runoff.
Brian Seifferlein / Harvest Public Media

Living in the Platte River Valley in central Nebraska means understanding that the water in your well may contain high levels of nitrates and may not be safe to drink.

“When our first son was born in 1980, we actually put a distiller in for our drinking water here in the house,” says Ken Seim, who lives in the Platte Valley near the town of Chapman, Nebraska. “And at that time our water level was a 12 parts per million.”

The headwaters of the South Platte River emerge near Bailey, Colorado.
Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Contaminated drinking water isn’t just a problem for Flint, Michigan. Many towns and cities across the Midwest and Great Plains face pollution seeping into their water supplies. A big part of the problem: farming and ranching.

Auctioneer Spanky Assiter calls bids for land and water rights at a real estate auction in Loveland, Colorado.
Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Few things are more valuable to a farmer in the arid West than irrigation water. Without it, the land turns back into its natural state: dry, dusty plains. If a fast-growing city is your neighbor, then your water holds even more value.

Miscanthus, shown growing in Iowa, is a perennial grass that could help keep nutrients out of waterways.
Rick Fredericksen / Iowa Public Radio

A new study supports planting perennial grasses on current cropland as a way to reduce nutrient loss from farm fields.

H2O

Jul 14, 2016

Kansas City might be an unusual place to headquarter an international organization that helps bring clean water to people around the world. A chat with Gary White, KC native and co-founder of Water.org.

Guest:

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