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K-State Research and Extension

Rural-urban partnership improves water quality

What we are doing:
With a population of nearly 390,000, the City of Wichita has plenty of people depending on clean, reliable water. Kansas State University brought together Wichita officials and rural agricultural producers upstream from the city, and the results are benefitting the farmers and Wichita residents alike.

The project involves farmers voluntarily using best management practices (BMPs), including not tilling fields. That helps reduce sediment and phosphorus going into public waterways, which in this case, flow into Wichita. The result is cleaner water downstream in the Little Arkansas River, a key source of water for the city.
This project aims to address water quality holistically, targeting water-quality practices to priority areas of the watershed by giving developers in Wichita the option to contribute to a yearly fee rather than installing stormwater treatment systems as part of their developments. This fee is then paid to farmers via a one-time, five-year contract for implementing water quality BMPs upstream of Wichita.

Our impact:

  • The program is designed to:
    • keep water cleaner
    • reduce costs for developers
    • provide financial incentives for farmers (estimated $30 to $40 per acre per year) which partially offsets the cost to farmers to implement BMPs
    • save money for the City of Wichita
    • potentially reduce homeowners' water bill if the city spends less to remove pollutants
  • In the first year of implementation, the program is estimated to have reduced sediment loads in runoff by 370 tons through adoption of no-till practices upstream of Wichita. This represents about 8.5 times more sediment than is estimated to be generated by new developments and redevelopments participating in the program.
  • The cost to achieve this sediment reduction through the offsite program is estimated at $42/ton sediment. The cost to remove sediment from stormwater with hydrodynamic separators typically used in Wichita to address water quality issues would have cost nearly $20,000/ton.
  • This offsite stormwater BMP program is the first agreement of its kind in Kansas, with an urban area paying landowners for practices that reduce pollutants, including sediments, in public waterways.
    • Rural and urban entities within the same watershed typically implement water quality programs separately, but rural-urban partnerships are increasingly viewed as the most effective way to manage water quality.

"K-State Research and Extension's experience in the rural watershed management arena provided a catalyst for the program. The city relies on the relationships that have been established with producers through the successful Little Ark WRAPS program. The experience and relationships combine to ensure effective management of the offsite BMPs. This is critical, as sustaining the program in perpetuity is the key element of the program."
– Alan King, director of the Department of Public Works & Utilities for the City of Wichita, Kansas