Our Fight to End In-River Dredging

A Brief History

In August 1991 several residents of north Lawrence formed Friends of the Kaw. To the present, Friends of the Kaw has successfully mounted public support and obtained denial of four (4) proposed sand dredging permits in a pristine section of the Kansas River between the communities of Lawrence and Topeka, Kansas. This involved mailings, phone calls and going door-to-door to inform community members about permits and hearings.

At a public hearing organized by the Corps of Engineers (COE) on May 16, 1995 considering Victory Sand and Gravel Company’s application (for an in-river operation to be located 4 miles above River Front Park in Lawrence) over 300 people gathered at the Perry/Lecompton High School during a thunder storm and tornado warning to express their opposition to opening this section of the Kansas River to in-river dredging operations. Since this hearing the COE has declined to offer subsequent public hearings considering in-river dredging permits on the Kansas River reasoning that “no new information” would be presented.

In early 1996 Friends of the Kaw members Lance Burr, Mike Calwell and Patty Boyer lobbied the Kansas Legislature to pass a bill to impose a moratorium on new dredging activities in the Kansas River. This bill passed in the Senate but not in the House. In response to the Herculean effort mounted by Friends of the Kaw to impose a moratorium on new dredging activities, the 1996 Omnibus Bill provided for a Recreational Study of the Kansas River which, when presented in 1997, showed that the state of Kansas could economically benefit by developing the Kansas River for recreational tourism.

On June 25, 2003 Lance Burr, Laura Calwell, Mike Calwell and Charles Benjamin met with Joyce Allegrucci, then Governor Sebelius’ chief of staff, and Joe Harkins, then the Chairman of the Sub-Cabinet on Natural Resources. Joe Harkins relates that the Sub-Cabinet is ready to begin the process of moving in-river sand dredging operations to pit mining operations. The process was to begin with formation of a task force to make recommendations to the state on this matter.

On August 8, 2003 the COE released for public comment the reauthorization of proposed 10-year permits (previously 5-year permits) for 12 in-river dredging operations along the Kansas River.

On August 15, 2003 Friends of the Kaw joined forces with Kansas Sierra Club, Kansas Wildlife Federation, Audubon of Kansas, Kansas Canoe Association, Kansas Natural Resource Council, and the Nature Conservancy to protest proposed permits and garner public support for public hearing on proposed dredging permits by sending emails and written notices to thousands of Kansans.

In October 2003, at the close of public comment period, the COE received over 350 comments with all but two asking for a public hearing and a majority asking for proposed permits to be denied. Friends of the Kaw recommended to “Issue 5-year UNRENEWABLE permits which will allow commercial sand and gravel companies currently using sites on the Kansas River to transition their operations off river, to pit mines, in the Kansas River valley.” Also included were responses with concerns from the U. S. EPA; U.S. Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service; Kansas Biological Survey; Kansas Lower Republican Basin Advisory Committee and, for the first time, a joint, unified response from the Kansas Governor’s Sub-Cabinet on Natural Resources including Kansas Departments of Agriculture, Health and Environment, Wildlife and Parks, State Conservation Director and Kansas Water Office. The Sub-Cabinet asked the COE for a public hearing to address:

  • The potential impact of dredging operations on public water supply intakes, other water supply intakes, bridges, pipeline crossings, and other structures
  • The potential impact of dredging operations on the river’s banks
  • The impact of dredging operations on the use of the Kansas River for recreation
  • The potential impact of dredging activities on fish and wildlife
  • The potential for dredging activities to adversely affect water quality

The Sub-cabinet also recommended that a Task Force be formed in 2004 to research and provide a recommendation on the future of in-river sand dredging by August 2008. The task force was subsequently replaced by the Technical Advisory Committee on Kansas River Channel Degradation proposal to the Kansas Water Authority.

On January 2005, the Kansas Water Authority (KWA) approved the formation of a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) to study the channel degradation of Kansas River. This was recommended and also strongly supported by the Kansas-Lower Republican Basin Advisory Committee.

The TAC consisted of representatives from appropriate agencies and were asked to quantify primary causes of degradation to the channel of the Kansas River, which are considered to be:

  1. Degradation of the Missouri riverbed. Over the years engineering by the COE to straighten out of the Missouri River through Kansas City to accommodate barge traffic has caused the faster flow of water. Over time this has scoured and deepened the channel of the Missouri River. As the Missouri River channel cuts down it also causes the deepening of the lower portion of tributary rivers like the Kansas River. At this time the WaterOne weir (which is in jeopardy of failure) is the hard point that is stopping this degradation in the lower Kansas River (note: WaterOne has replaced the weir by a low head dam.)
  2. An effect of federal dams on Kansas River tributaries. When water is released from reservoirs it is relatively silt free and attracts silt particles from the bed and banks below the dams. Also, the dams are now trapping sand that used to freely move from tributaries to the Kansas River.
  3. The effect of dredging operations.

The TAC met from January to June 2005 to prepare the Kansas River Channel Degradation report and recommendations but did not quantify primary causes of degradation because of lack of specific technical data on the condition of the Kansas River.

The KWA authorized continuation of the TAC to begin a comprehensive study on the sections of the Kansas River between WaterOne coffer dam and Bowersock Dam (seven of the twelve current dredging permits are located in this section). Cross sections were funded every 4.5 miles on the Kansas River to augment data currently being collected by the dredging industry on sections where active dredging occurs and funding the completion of a limited index of biological integrity for the lower Kansas River segments. (This study would update the study Frank Cross did in the early 1980s).

TAC was expanded to add stakeholders to include the Kansas Riverkeeper Laura Calwell and Woody Moses, director of the Kansas Aggregate Producers’ Association, and continues to meet on a regular basis. At the TAC meeting on April 20, 2006 it was decided to NOT recommend to the State of Kansas that in-river dredging permits be phased out and required to move operations to pit mines because not enough technical information has been collected on the historical and current condition of the Kansas River. This decision by the TAC prompted Friends of the Kaw to begin the Kansas River Inventory project to assist in providing information on the current condition of the Kansas River. In 2007 the COE approved re-authorization of nine dredging permits for five more years, with permits to be reviewed in 2012.

In 2006 the COE approved the first new dredging permit on the Kansas River since 1990 just east of Topeka about a mile above the Seward Avenue Access ramp.

In November of 2011 the COE proposed to expand in-river dredging from ten to thirteen sites and expanding the overall tonnage of aggregate that could be removed from the river  from 2.2 million tons to 3.2 million tons.  This proposal has not yet been approved.

In January of 2013 the COE extended existing permits pending the outcome of an Environmental Assessment (EA) and possibly an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). 

In April of 2014 after reviewing the EA the COE announced that they were unable to conclude that there are no potentially significant impacts associated with dredging activities proposed by the dredging companies. They have determined an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will be necessary before dredging operations may be reauthorized in the Kansas River.  The EIS will be published in late 2016.  Current dredging permits have been extended through this process.  

Since 1990 the COE has suspended many permits because the bed of the river had degraded more that two feet in five years.  Currently there are only seven permits on the river (one in east Topeka and six in Kansas City, Kansas.) Also we have observed that only two or three active dredges are currently operating on the Kansas River.  The permits held by Penny’s Concrete and Masters Sand and Gravel between Eudora and Bowersock Dam are no longer valid.

Friends of the Kaw, with the support of Patagonia, has continued our advocacy to encourage the move of in-river sand dredging operations to pit mines in the Kaw River Valley. This section on our web site is set up to educate the public on the process for the permitting of both in-river dredge sites and pit mines and the environmental considerations and best management practices for both type of operations.