According to the Kansas Water Office's website, about two-thirds of Kansans rely on reservoir water for their municipal supplies, but it's projected that in 50 years sediment will reduce the volume by about 40 percent.
The Water Office also projects the Ogallala Aquifer will be 70 percent depleted and probably not be able to support irrigation.
So, what are we to do?
I highly suspect rainfall amounts are not going to increase significantly in the next 50 years. In fact, those who are studying global climate change argue that Kansas is likely to look a lot more like southwest Texas, that is, have a more desert-like appearance and drier weather.
Even if rainfall continued in the same amounts today for the next 50 years, the erosion of sediment into our reservoirs will continue as long as we continue to do business as usual.
In my mind, doing business as usual is part of the problem, and changing how we manage lands around our reservoirs may be the best chance we have to protect our water storage capacity.
I have toured some of the buffer areas that are being created on both sides of one of the major streams that runs eventually into Clinton Lake.
While the concept of planting trees in a zone alongside the upper banks is a good start, it apparently is not going to be enough to prevent streambank erosion.
I would plant a much wider buffer and I would probably use native grasses and forbs instead of large trees to hold soil in place.
These buffers are supposed to serve the same purpose as a silt fence on a construction project. They do a pretty good job in the short run, but can they hold back enough soil from surrounding farm fields for the next 50 years?
How about for the next 100-200 years? I assume people will still be living here in 200 years and more, and they are going to need water just like we have a need for water.
There are not a lot of major streams and rivers in Kansas, so even if we had 200-400 foot buffers on each side of these tributaries, no one is going to starve for a lack of corn or wheat that was not grown in the buffer zones.
Actually, the buffers would also have the capacity to produce plenty of wildlife and it may be that as long as there was plenty of deep-rooted grasses in the buffers, that they could also be used to grow other crops like grapes, tree fruits and nuts, berries, hazelnuts, etc.
Good, wide buffers would also support a bunch of pheasants, turkeys, deer, indigo buntings, and goldfinches, among others. The population of pheasants are drastically low right now largely due to a lack of great habitat and because the several-year long drought diminished the wildlife value of much of the existing habitat in Kansas.
John Redmond Reservoir is planned to be dredged in the next 25 years and the cost is projected to be as much as 100 times the cost of the original project. I am pretty certain the cost for the easement of at least 200-400 feet on both sides of major tributaries would be far less than the cost to dredge any reservoir.
We are certain continuing to do business as usual is not the answer to the filling in of our reservoirs with sediment. I think it's time to give great incentives to the landowners who would be responsible to manage very wide buffers to protect our water storage capacity because even if we did get more rain, it would not solve our water storage problems.
Join me online to the KWO and ask for or demand wide streamside buffers or at least make plans for your grandkids to move to a place with better water security in the next 50 years.