Brief history of Friends of the Kaw’s fight to end in-river sand dredging on the Kansas River

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 get FOK members and community members apprised of 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.  

August 8 2003 - The COE releases for public comment the reauthorization of proposed 10-year permits (previously 5 year permits) for 12 in-river dredging operations along the Kansas River. August 15, 2003 Friends of the Kaw joins 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 email and written notices to thousands of Kansans.  

October 2003 - At the close of public comment period, the COE receives over 350 comments and all but two ask for a public hearing and the majority ask for proposed permits to be denied. Friends of the Kaw recommends 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 are 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 asks 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 river’s banks;
  • The impact of dredging operations on use of the Kansas River for recreation;
  • The potential impact of dredging activities on fish and wildlife;
  • And the potential for dredging activities to adversely affect water quality.

The Sub-cabinet also recommends 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 and purpose broadened with the Technical Advisory Committee on Kansas River Channel Degradation proposal to the Kansas Water Authority.

On January 13, 2005 the Kansas-Lower Republican Basin Advisory Committee strongly supports Kansas Water Plan Concept Paper on Channel Degradation in the Kansas River be presented for consideration to the Kansas Water Authority (KWA) on January 27, 2005.    

After comments by Woody Moses, director of the Kansas Aggregate Producers’ Association and by Laura Calwell, Kansas Riverkeeper and internal discussion, the KWA approves the first phase of the plan to convene a Technical Advisory Committee consisting of representatives from appropriate agency’s to quantify primary causes of degradation to the channel of the Kansas River which are considered to be:  

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 on 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. 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. Commercial in-river dredging operations (see Sand Dredging Impacts of the Kansas River.)

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 Committee is expanded to add stakeholders to include 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 committee 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 Committee 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. Permits will be reviewed in 2012.

The TAC has not met for the past several years but the new cross sections and index of biological integrity authorized by the KWA are being completed. The TAC will meet in 2010 to review the studies and data. 

Friends of the Kaw, with the support of Patagonia, has continued to work on 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.