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.
“That aquifer has been relatively ignored because there’s been so much focus on the Ogallala,” said Rolfe Mandel, interim director of the Kansas Geological Survey. “Not that the Ogallala is not important, but this is also a very important aquifer for different reasons.”
The Kansas River’s alluvial aquifer is made up of groundwater that seeps into the soil surrounding the riverbed.
The alluvial aquifer and reservoirs connected to Kansas River provide tap water to communities throughout the northeastern part of the state. Mandel said no one knows right now how much capacity the groundwater system really has, and that could cause problems as populations increase.
“You’re looking at basically a growth corridor, especially from about Junction City to Kansas City,” Mandel said. “Obviously the farther east you go, there’s really more pressure on that aquifer for municipal and industrial uses.”
Speaking to state legislators Tuesday, Mandel proposed a similar network of wells along the Kansas River stretching from just upstream of Manhattan in the west to where the Kaw meets the Missouri River near downtown Kansas City, Mo.
The wells would allow the Kansas Geological Survey to put together computer models, updated every five years, that show the effect of development and reservoir management on groundwater levels.
The Kansas River monitoring project is mentioned in Gov. Sam Brownback’s 50-year water vision, but with few specifics and no identified funding source.
When pressed by Rep. Tom Sloan, chairman of the House Water and Environment Committee, Mandel and James Butler, a scientist with the geological survey, said it would take about $250,000 to get the project off the ground.
Sloan, a Republican from Lawrence who also sits on an agriculture and natural resources budget committee, said he was interested in finding the funding, despite the state’s ongoing budget crunch.
Andy Marso is a reporter for KCUR’s Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio and KMUW covering health, education and politics in Kansas. You can reach him on Twitter @andymarso. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to kcur.org.