Sediment starving local reservoirs, waterways

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The Tuttle Creek Dam impounds Tuttle Creek Lake, which serves as a water reservoir. One of the biggest issues Tuttle Creek Lake faces is sedimentation. (George Walker | The Collegian)

Representatives and water experts from multiple counties discussed potential goals for Manhattan and other areas affected by the Kansas River and local reservoirs Wednesday night.

Over 30 people filled the Manhattan Fire Department’s assembly room at 2000 Denison Ave. and formed six groups around tables, responding to and discussing questions like, “What do you see as the best way to ensure adequate reservoir storage in the future?” and “What role should water conservation and public education play in meeting future needs?”

This was the 13th installment of more than 20 meetings scheduled to take place across Kansas from March 2-31.

One topic central of discussion was Tuttle Creek Lake. According to Earl Lewis, assistant director for the Kansas Water Office, the goal is to avoid drought situations like the one Kansas faced in the 1950s. Lewis said measures taken by Kansas decision makers back then, including the construction of new reservoirs, helped ease the impact of both that drought and the current one.

“A lot of folks didn’t even really recognize that we were in a drought or how bad it was,” Lewis said. “So that infrastructure and that planning has worked, now what’s the plan going forward.”

According to Lewis, the biggest issue at hand in Manhattan is sedimentation, or matter that is deposited into bodies of water by wind or water. If students drive across the bridge at Tuttle Creek, they can see a mudflat in the lake.

“When (Tuttle Creek) was built, it was all water,” Lewis said. “So what that really translates to in a drought is that would have been water that we’d have had to help make it through the drought. Now that’s filled with dirt so you can’t have that storage.”

The longer sediment accumulates in this way, the less reliable the water supply becomes in drought situations, Lewis said.

Todd Lovin, park manager for Tuttle Creek, said meetings like this are a way of getting all those involved in preventing further issues to meet together, even if sedimentation is not as big of a problem as was initially planned for.

“I think it’s on target for or even behind what it was projected to be, but it’s still an issue,” Lovin said.

Brian McNulty, Tuttle Creek operations project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said Tuttle Creek is a multipurpose lake that is managed through a partnership between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Kansas Water Office.

“We have formal contracts on how we manage the large reservoirs in the state,” McNulty said. “They’re the water-use side of it, we’re responsible for all the other uses of it.”

Meetings such as these, McNulty said, could end up impacting Tuttle Creek because it will affect how the Kansas Water Office manages the portion of the lake they are responsible for.

According to Lewis, the current step of figuring out goals for the regions’ water supply is to find exactly how much sedimentation needs to be limited.

“At this point, we’re really trying to say, ‘What is that goal?'” Lewis said. “We know what a lot of the solutions are, but how far do we want to go?”

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Shelton Burch
Shelton grew up in the desert southwest. A native of Lancaster, California, he mostly grew up in south Phoenix, Arizona; Austin, Texas; and Colorado Springs, Colorado before moving to Kansas and graduating from Junction City High School. He started working as a news writer for the Collegian in 2009 before taking a three-year break from college. He returned to K-State in 2013 and has since worked for the news desk, feature desk, as a copy editor and now as a sports writer. He enjoys tap dancing, writing anything possible, reading court opinions and watching Arizona Coyotes hockey.