Water quality topic of discussion during panel

One panelist stated, “water is water.” Another said quality concerns are directly tied to quantity. And the last said he doesn’t like calling it a wastewater treatment plant.

Three speakers discussed the innovations and strides people in the Ark River Basin have done to help improve the water in southwest Kansas. Tom Stiles, director of Bureau of Water, Kansas Department of Health and Environment; Fred Jones, water systems resource manager for the City of Garden City; and Ray Slattery, director of engineering services for the City of Dodge City; comprised the water quality panel at the recent Sustaining Water in the Ark River Basin meeting in Dodge City, Kansas.

Water quality in this area is reflected in how diminished the snowpack is in the lower Rockies and by the strong evapotranspiration induced by water use patterns. This also leaves salt behind and creates even more challenges.

The drought is an ongoing crisis and drought management often influences water quality. Conductivity is a measure of salinity total and dissolved solids. These levels are constantly high, Stiles said.

“The summer time period reflects the best opportunity for good quality water—because it’s driven as much by John Martin (Reservoir) as anything,” he said. “Worst quality water we see is always like in the wintertime period.”

Uranium is also a concern currently. Many producers and water users started dealing with sulfates back in 2000 and developed total maximum daily loads because of the higher sulfates coming down the mountains and across the state line.

Researchers began looking at selenium because it has implications for aquatic life.

“It got a little more serious and that’s when we started catching Colorado’s attention for more than uranium,” he said. “The thing with uranium, it’s scary. It makes you think radioactivity.”

There are threshold levels to be observed, and there are issues with radioactivity at the state line near Coolidge, Kansas. Once uranium reaches a certain level, it can become toxic and attack kidney function.

“That’s just calling it out for what it really is not to get caught up in the hype of just everything attached to uranium that has an implication on radioactivity,” he said. “That’s not really the issue here.”

Colorado is a “tremendous partner” when it comes to water quality, according to Stiles.

“They have spent millions looking at it,” he said. “There are people affected by the poor water quality as we are. And we continue to work to collaborate.”

As for a solution to work to improve the quality of water in the Ark Valley, Colorado and Kansas are coordinating efforts. Stiles said a dashboard is going to be developed to share information and provide the facts and what conditions are out on the river.

“We want to build an advocacy effort which basically is us saying both states have to go arm and arm up to Capitol Hill and ask for federal money to really attack this issue appropriately,” he said.

In Kansas, it’s more about recognizing that the river is always going to face saline problems to some degree.

“How do we best manage it and how to utilize that? Especially when it comes to irrigation decisions,” Stiles said. “And how do we also limit the poor-quality water from spreading out beyond the river channel.”

In Garden City

For Jones, he believes water concerns in his city will have to be dealt with forever.

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“We need that. And so cities treat water and try to be good stewards of the water, whether it’s been used or unused,” he said.

Fifty percent of Garden City’s water supply comes from their well field supply and the remainder comes from a few wells in the town itself. Garden City does have a treatment plant and makes up the balance of their water supply with the help of the plant.

“We’re surrounded by basically 300,000 acres of irrigated agriculture,” he said. “We know that our Ogallala resource is in decline.”

They’re talking about constructing some new wells since there are a few that pre-date 1965. At that time the water level was astonishingly high.

“The static water level was 8 feet. Just about stick a straw in the ground and get water,” he said. “It’s significantly deeper now. Significantly deeper.”

Garden City is currently reusing water like they’re counterpart 50 miles to the east. In 2004 it entered into an agreement with Wheatland Electric to build infrastructure and utilized the treated affluent, piped across the city to use at its facility and other locations.

“They use it for cooling electric production, and they use it for some water balancing for one of their water rights,” he said.

The city also entered into an agreement with the Dairy Farmers of America plant to develop a dehydration plant for milk in Garden City.

“One of the issues was dealing with the water that was removed from milk,” he said. “Then we discharged that through our discharge permit and that’s discharged to the Arkansas River right now. Only wet spot on the river right now really.”

Garden City is still operating under the same pumping limitations they’ve had since 1984 and the city has doubled in size since. Three major industries are expected to go online soon and those are in the half million to 1 million gallon per day demand range. More homes and residential subdivisions have been constructed.

Garden City has close to a billion gallons a year of water that’s available to reclaim and Jones hopes they’ll find ways to reduce the amount of other water that’s being pumped from our groundwater resources.

“But we also have to keep in mind that the No. 1 goal—the goal of a public water supplies is to provide drinking water and fire protection, period,” Jones said.

Dodge City

Slattery said his city has been recycling water since “before recycling was cool.” The city began in 1983 recycling water and constructed a new treatment facility in 1985. By 1988, city leaders realized they couldn’t manage it themselves and hired a company that’s now known as Jacobs.

They actually had to supplement the effluent with fresh water, and later an odor lawsuit threw another wrench in plans. To remedy this they installed covers over the anaerobic lagoons and helped eliminate the odor.

They also realized the treated effluent has nutrients in it, with nitrate being one of them. At first their farmer partners were used to irrigating and growing corn a certain way and continued to put on about 200 pounds of nitrogen on in the fall and water as usual.

“When they realized that our water had nitrogen in it we quit using commercial fertilizer,” he said. “But we’d have a buildup of the nitrogen in that upper soil level. And so twice a year we have soil samples. In the fall we do shallow samples and in the spring we do deep sample.”

Working with their farmer partners, they changed up the crop rotation and the farmer made the switch to alfalfa in the early 2000s to take advantage of the added nitrogen.

At this time National Beef went online and the city had grown some. The city of Dodge City and National Beef partnered on construction to expand the treatment and holding capacity at the wastewater plant.

“We added another 505 million gallons of storage to the system for a total of 1,053 million gallons of storage,” he said.

There’s 181 surface acres of storage or capacity now.

“We jokingly say that the city of Dodge City has the largest body of water in Ford County and maybe southwest Kansas,” he said.

The south recycling facility treats about 2 million gallons a day of municipal water and about four and a half million gallons a day of industrial water. During the year about 2.4 billion gallons of water are recycled and generates 1.6 million cubic feet of biogas a day. Because of the odor lawsuit the lagoons were covered and originally it was just burned off.

Another plant was added north of Dodge City and basically all the wastewater from north of U.S. Highway 50 gets treated in the new mechanical plant. It began receiving water in 2004.

That plant treats about 200,000 gallons a day or 60.4 million gallons of effluent a year. Slattery said that water has been irrigated with and it’s also sent to the Demon Lake at the Dodge City High School campus.

“We did the initial fill at that lake and then we also provide them water occasionally to help supplement it and keep the lake at a certain level,” he said. “Majority of the water goes to our public golf course where we irrigate the golf course which sits on 160 acres.”

On the horizon is another expansion because of the city’s growth and increased industrial demands. They’re looking towards a project that would send 1.5 billion gallons a year for an aquifer recharge and maintain 1.5 billion gallons a year for crop irrigation.

“Basically we would inject or put the water in the river basin up in town where our majority of our water wells are for town system and hopefully stabilize and add some recharge to that system,” he said. “So we can protect our water, water wells and possibly have some recover some water rights from the water being discharged.”

Kylene Scott can be reached at 620-227-1804 or [email protected].