Federal Water Tap, May 13: Army Corps Eyes New Lake-Dredging Technique for Kansas Reservoir Filling with Sediment

The Rundown

  • Army Corps plans to evaluate a novel dredging project in a Kansas reservoir.
  • Bureau of Reclamation finalizes a two-year water management plan for main Colorado River reservoirs.
  • Texas senators introduce Rio Grande legislation.
  • Reclamation awards $148 million for drought resiliency projects in the western states.
  • Ohio county and city sue EPA over Lake Erie algal blooms.
  • Wildlife managers issue new rules for wetlands and farmland drainage in the northern Great Plains.

And lastly, the CDC reports on a waterborne illness outbreak in Utah due to children ingesting untreated municipal irrigation water.

“If you do nothing, you are choosing to reallocate your storage of water into storage of sediment, and doing nothing has a real cost. You are forgoing very significant benefits, and then once it’s full of sediment, it’s full of sediment, and you have a liability and no water storage advantage there.” — John Shelley, a hydraulic engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers Kansas City District, speaking about a project to dredge sediment from Tuttle Creek Lake, a federal reservoir in Kansas.

By the Numbers

$148 Million: Funding awarded to drought resiliency projects in the western states. The money goes to 42 projects in 10 states – things like groundwater recharge, municipal water treatment, and pipeline interconnections.

13: Children in Utah who contracted a waterborne bacterial illness in summer 2023 while playing in water from an untreated municipal irrigation pipe. According to a CDC report, the illness was from Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, a microbe that attacks the kidneys. Seven of the children went to the hospital, but none died.

News Briefs

Colorado River Reservoir Management Deal
The Bureau of Reclamation finalized a two-year plan to manage water supplies in the Colorado River basin in order to minimize the risk of catastrophically low reservoirs.

The three lower basin states (Arizona, California, and Nevada) will reduce water demands by 3 million acre-feet through 2026, when the current operating guidelines for the basin’s two largest reservoirs (Mead and Powell) expire. If the reservoirs drop lower than expected, Reclamation can further reduce water deliveries.

Most of the conservation in the next two years (some 77 percent) will be paid for with federal taxpayer dollars.

Rio Grande Water Dispute
The Texas senate delegation introduced a bill to calm farmers in their state over water supplies in the Rio Grande basin.

The bill, according to co-sponsor Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) directs the State Department to negotiate and use diplomatic pressure to compel Mexico to meet its obligation to deliver water from Rio Grande tributaries to the river’s main channel.

The water deliveries are counted in a five-year cycle, with the current cycle ending in October 2025. Mexico is farther behind at this point than in any previous cycle.

In context: Can U.S. and Mexico Secure Water Supplies in Shrinking Rio Grande?

Wetlands and Farm Drainage
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is changing the rules around wetlands protection in the northern Great Plains.

The agency acquires easements for wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region of Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota, where small, shallow lakes hold the country’s most important duck habitat.

The easement requires the landowner to protect the wetland. In other words, not to drain it. On the rest of their land, farmers can install perforated subsurface pipes called “drain tile” to make the land suitable for cultivation.

The new rules dictate how far away from an easement a farmer can place drain tile. Adhere to the rules, and a farmer is not at fault if the protected wetland does drain.

Studies and Reports

A New Way to Lake Dredge
Tuttle Creek Lake, a federal reservoir in eastern Kansas, is filling with sediment. Nearly half the reservoir’s capacity has been lost in the last six decades, thus reducing its ability to act as a flood buffer for the state’s population centers.

To rehabilitate the reservoir, the Army Corps of Engineers wants to test a dredging technique that has never been used in a lake. Called water injection dredging, the technique uses jets of water to stir up lakebed sediments, which are then flushed from the dam outlets. It is less expensive than digging out the sediment.

In an environmental assessment, the Army Corps says its preferred course of action is to dredge from April to October next year, while also monitoring the lake and creek ecology to gauge changes in water quality, aquatic life, and flow patterns. The Army Corps does not anticipate any significant harm.

A successful test could pave the way for the technique to be used in other reservoirs in the Kansas River basin, where most of the state’s largest cities are located.

On the Radar

Infrastructure Spending Oversight
The EPA Office of Inspector General released its plan for overseeing agency spending in the third year of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The watchdog tracks the agency’s IIJA spending on a dashboard. Of the nearly $61 billion it received, the agency has so far spent 7.5 percent.

Lake Erie Algae Outlook
Forecasters expect a medium-to-large algae bloom this summer in the western basin of Lake Erie.

This early in the year, there is considerable uncertainty in the forecast. The severity of the bloom – a measure of its biomass, not its toxicity – hinges on the amount of phosphorus flushed into the lake in the spring and early summer.

The lake’s persistent foul waters prompted Lucas County, Ohio, and Toledo, Ohio, to sue the EPA because the agency, they argue, approved an inadequate state plan to prevent nutrient pollution in the beleaguered lake.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. district court, with the Environmental Law and Policy Center as a co-plaintiff.

Federal Water Tap is a weekly digest spotting trends in U.S. government water policy. To get more water news, follow Circle of Blue on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.

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