Kansas River among America’s Most Endangered Rivers

Sand and gravel dredging threatens clean water

May 15th, 2012

Fay Augustyn, American Rivers, (202) 347-7550
Laura Calwell, Kansas Riverkeeper, (913) 963-3460
Chad Lamer, Friends of the Kaw, (785) 218-4994
Melinda Daniels, Kansas State University, (785) 532-0765

Washington, D.C. – American Rivers named the Kansas River among America’s Most Endangered Rivers® today, shining a national spotlight on the threat that sand and gravel dredging poses to clean water. 

“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers that are facing a critical tipping point,” said Fay Augustyn of American Rivers. “We all need healthy rivers for our drinking water, health, economy, and quality of life. We hope citizens will join us to ensure a clean, healthy Kansas River for generations to come.”

In-river sand dredging widens and deepens the river channel, lowering the water level of the river and the water table – making access to water more difficult for people and wildlife. Dredging also causes erosion, and increases contamination and pollution by churning up old industrial pollutants (like PCBs and heavy metals) that have settled to the river bottom, thus increasing public health hazards.

Despite these concerns, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering drastically expanding dredging on the Kansas River by nearly 50 percent, even reopening areas previously closed due to “unacceptable degradation.”

American Rivers and its partners have called on the Army Corps to complete a new Environmental Impact Study on dredging, deny all new permit and tonnage requests, and end dredging on the Kansas River by 2017.

“The Kansas or Kaw River is truly unique– it’s the longest sandbed river in the country. American Rivers’ designation shows the Kaw is not just of local but national importance,” said Chad Lamer, President of Friends of the Kaw. “We really hope this recognition will improve our chances of building the nationally-recognized Kansas River Water Trail – a project that has enormous economic potential for many communities along the river.”

“This designation will hopefully help improve our water quality, and anything that improves water quality improves the health and welfare of Kansans,” said Laura Calwell, Kansas Riverkeeper for Friends of the Kaw. “Given that dredgers have other economic and affordable options to get high quality sand, we just don’t see the need for in-river dredging. It damages the river too much for the rest of us.”

“In my nearly 40 years of building experience, the price I pay for concrete or bulk sand for masonry applications has always been the same, regardless of whether the sand comes from a pit mine or river dredging,” said Chip Farley, with F.W. Farley-Builder, Inc., Stilwell, Kansas. “Because of the recent economic downturn, the demand for sand is currently down. It would make sense for sand dredgers/suppliers to take this opportunity to develop additional pit mines for future demand, rather than pushing for expanded environmentally unfriendly river dredging.”

“The Kansas River is a wonderful example of a Great Plains river, and can become an even greater recreational asset if access is improved,” said Dr. Melinda D. Daniels, PhD, Associate Professor of Fluvial Geomorphology, Department of Geography, Kansas State University.

“However, in-channel sand mining is a lose-lose activity that damages the river ecosystem, causing accelerated bank and bed erosion and economic costs to floodplain landowners,” Daniels adds. “Ultimately, taxpayers end up subsidizing a damaging and unnecessary mining process by having to pay the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to come in and repair the damage sand-dredging causes to banks, bridges, and water intakes. Mining operations can easily be moved to off-channel pits to provide continued supplies of sand at similar prices.”

The Kansas River is the largest tributary of the Missouri River and provides drinking water for 600,000 people. The ‘Kaw’ has become the state’s most popular recreational river, with over nineteen access points and four more underway. Canoeing and kayaking revenue in Kansas is calculated at around $3.7 million per year. The river and its tributaries are also home to fourteen threatened or endangered fish species. The U.S. Department of the Interior has declared the Kansas River Water Trail as one of its Top 101 Conservation Projects.

Now in its 27th year, the annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.

The Kansas River has been listed as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® in the past – in 1995 (agricultural pollution and sand dredging), 1998 (agricultural and municipal pollution), and 2002 (pollution and removal of Clean Water Act protections).

America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2012:
#1: Potomac River (MD, VA, PA, WV, DC)
Threat: Pollution
At risk: Clean water and public health

#2: Green River (WY, UT, CO)
Threat: Water withdrawals
At risk: Recreation opportunities and fish and wildlife habitat

#3: Chattahoochee River (GA)
Threat: New dams and reservoirs
At risk: Clean water and healthy fisheries

#4: Missouri River (IA, KS, MN, MO, MT, NE, ND, SD, WY)
Threat: Outdated flood management
At risk: Public safety

#5: Hoback River (WY)
Threat: Natural gas development
At stake: Clean water and world-class fish and wildlife

#6: Grand River (OH)
Threat: Natural gas development
At risk: Clean water and public health

#7: South Fork Skykomish River (WA)
Threat: New dam
At risk: Habitat and recreation

#8: Crystal River (CO)
Threat: Dams and water diversions
At risk: Fish, wildlife, and recreation

#9: Coal River (WV)
Threat: Mountaintop removal coal mining
At risk: Clean water and public health

#10: Kansas River (KS)
Threat: Sand and gravel dredging
At risk: Public health and wildlife habitat


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About American Rivers

About American Rivers

American Rivers protects wild rivers, restores damaged rivers, and conserves clean water for people and nature. Since 1973, American Rivers has protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and the annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® campaign. Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 200,000 members, supporters, and volunteers.

Rivers connect us to each other, nature, and future generations. Find your connections at AmericanRivers.org, Facebook.com/AmericanRivers, and Twitter.com/AmericanRivers.