WaterOne board candidates on the issues: Statewide water issues affecting local operations

Last month, we asked our readers what issues they wanted to hear the candidates running for local office address ahead of this fall’s local elections primary. Based on the input we received, we developed a three-item questionnaire for candidates running for WaterOne board address.

Today we publish the candidates’ responses to item two:

What statewide water policy issues are most important to WaterOne‘s operations? How can the organization play a key role in addressing those issues?

Water District Board Member 1

Terry Frederick (incumbent)

WaterOne’s Board and Staff have been leaders within the State dealing with water policy issues. Through WaterOne’s long-range operational and financial planning, issues and concerns facing the utility, its customers and other stakeholders are identified. A plan is then developed to resolve the issues working with the State and other utilities and stakeholders as needed.

It is important that there is sufficient water quality and quantity to meet the current and future needs of our customers and other residents of Kansas. WaterOne’s Board and Staff worked with the Governor’s office and other stakeholders to develop the 50-year water vision for the State and the process to implement the vision. The vision states that “Kansans act on a shared commitment to have the water resources necessary to support the state’s social, economic and natural resource needs for current and future generations.” The mission would “provide Kansans with the framework, policy and tools, developed in concert with stakeholders, to manage, secure and protect a reliable, long term statewide water supply while balancing conservation with economic growth.” WaterOne continues to work with the Kansas Legislature to ensure that there is sufficient funding for the State Water Plan and implementation of the 50-year water vision.

Another important statewide water quality issue is the presence of harmful algae blooms (“HAB”) in some of the State’s reservoirs and waterways. Since 2011, WaterOne has detected HAB’s in our Kansas River source water when the Corps of Engineers releases water from Milford Lake during a bloom event. Nutrient runoff and phosphorous load contribute to the conditions that cause HAB’s. HAB levels have been treatable to date, but can cause taste and odor issues, concern from the community and increases our water treatment expense. WaterOne has worked with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Kansas Water Office to form and obtain funding for the Milford Regional Conservation Partnership Program (“RCPP”). The RCPP works with landowners within the watershed to cost-share programs to implement Best Management Practices to decrease nutrient and phosphorous run-off in order to reduce or eliminate HAB’s. The program is funded utilizing Federal, State and other stakeholder contributions. WaterOne has committed funding and in-kind staff resources for this important program.

These are two examples of how WaterOne will continue to be a leader in addressing statewide water policy issues for the benefit of our current and future customers to provide safe clean high-quality water.

Melanie Kraft

One of my concerns and a major initiative when I am elected to WaterOne Board, would be more education and outreach regarding proper disposal of pharmaceutical products. Many Johnson County residents are unaware of where and how to dispose of pharmaceutical products and many get disposed of in our water supply system because of the ease of disposal but please DO NOT flush medications down your toilets. Drop off stations are available at most police stations and Drug DropOff days are announced regularly.

River dredging and agricultural over use of water and upstream contaminates like nitrate primarily from fertilizers seeping into groundwater are issues that WaterOne must address everyday. Water conservation in an era of climate change is also critical. We don’t know the full extent of what climate change will bring and we must work with other organizations and stakeholders to find ways to conserve water usage. We must all learn now how to manage our limited water resources.

Approximately 10,000 people are moving to Overland Park every year. Infrastructure maintenance is a very important aspect of WaterOne’s daily workflow. Regular maintenance on such a large infrastructure requires daily attention. One only needs to examine the water infrastructure problems in Wichita, Kansas to realize how easily this problem can develop due to delay and postponement of needed repairs.

Water District Board Member 2

Greg Mitchell

Many statewide water policy issues are concerned with water usage and management in the western part of the state. But there are statewide issues that impact the Kansas City region. These are primarily related water contamination. In terms of contamination two critical issues that are occurring simultaneously: the recent laxing of federal regulations related to the Safe Drinking Water act and the ongoing increase in the incidence and prevalence of contaminants like Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS). Water pollution is the most important statewide policy issue that impacts WaterOne’s operations. I am using “policy” lightly as some of these are being (or may be) addressed as policy issues and some are environmental phenomena that need to be dealt with scientifically. Regardless, the impact on WaterOne’s operations is potentially significant.

From a policy shaping perspective, WaterOne needs to continue to leverage its reputation and technical expertise to inform policy makers about these concerns and to challenge them to adapt sensible policies to mitigate hazards. Additionally, the district needs to continually challenge itself to meet (and exceed) standards to assure safe and affordable water. This may require further investment into water treatment and lab facilities. The cautious approach is to assume that quality of source water will decrease over the next few years. WaterOne has to have the capabilities to assure that the quality of treated tap-water is not impacted.

Another statewide issue which has captured (or will capture) the attention of statewide is deteriorating infrastructure. WaterOne’s treatment and distribution systems are in good shape and the board has planned well for the future. Much of that infrastructure will begin aging-out in the next 20 years. The WaterOne board has adopted a financial philosophy of “generational equity”. This means pay for maintenance and repairs now in order to avoid shifting huge costs to future generations. From an internal governance perspective, WaterOne needs to maintain a diligent strategy to assure that high-quality and affordable water is not only available to rate-payers today, but to future generations as well.

If WaterOne sticks to its mission: “To provide a safe, reliable, high-quality water supply with exceptional service and value”; it will be engaged with public policy makers to address those issues which can be addressed legislatively and it will deploy tools and expertise to address those issues which need to be addressed scientifically. The impact on operations is significant but WaterOne will overcome these challenges.

Robert Olson (incumbent)

Having been on the board for many years, I have been able to be a part of the very conservative group that has been able to work with the Kansas Water Office. The two primary concerns are related to reservoir sedimentation and harmful algal blooms (HABs).

Our close relationship with the Kansas Water Office has allowed us to work together to execute the Best Management Practices (BMP) plan in the Kansas City Region. This collaboration has had many positive results such as a reduction in sediment load by around 125,597 tons annually. That is 20% of the total sediment reduction annually. (Kansas Water Office 2018 Regional Plan)

Harmful Algal Blooms continue to plague the region. In 2018, the Kansas Water Office was awarded $2.88 million through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) to address HABs and improve water quality conditions. Mike Armstrong, WaterOne general manager, and the WaterOne board have requested funding from the State of Kansas to further their efforts to combat migration of HABs in the Kansas City Area.

Other issues we are working on include, but are not limited to:

  • Ensure there is sufficient water quality and quantity to meet our future needs
  • Protect reservoirs like Milford from harmful algae blooms
  • Working with the Kansas Water Office and the NRCS to get Milford Reservoir RCPP started
  • Looking into reservoirs like Tuttle Creek having problems with sediment
  • Working with the Corps to identify strategies to pass sediment through Tuttle Creek reservoir
  • Work with the legislature to ensure that there is enough funding for the State Water
  • Plan and implementation of the 50-year water vision

Water District Board Member 6

Dave Vander Veen

I have been attending WaterOne board meetings and administrative meetings since February 2019. Based on information presented during these meetings, along with a number of conversations I have had with the WaterOne team, there is ongoing collaboration between WaterOne and the Kansas Water Office. The two primary concerns at this time are related to reservoir sedimentation and harmful algal blooms (HABs).

As it relates to reservoir sedimentation, “The Kansas River serves as a critical drinking water supply for more than 800,000 people” (Kansas Water Office August 2018 Regional Plan). Based on a recent conversation with Mike Armstrong, General Manager, WaterOne, he stated that WaterOne has a close working relationship with the Kansas Water Office. This includes working together to fully execute the Best Management Practices (BPM) plan in the Kansas City Region. This collaboration has resulted in positive results. “To date, previous BMP implementation has reduced the sediment load by an estimated 125,597 tons annually. Combined, both practices have a sediment reduction rate of 638,157 tons per year, with 80% of the average annual sedimentation reduction occurring from implementing streambank stabilization projects, while 20% reduction occurs from the implementation of BPMs” (Kansas Water Office 2018 Regional Plan).

Harmful Algal Blooms continue to plague the region, with Milford and Perry reservoirs experiencing blooms in 2017. In 2018 the Kansas Water Office was awarded $2.88 million through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) to address HABs and improve water quality conditions within the Milford Lake Watershed. Mike Armstrong stated that WaterOne has requested funding from the State of Kansas to help fund WaterOne’s ongoing efforts to combat migration of HABs in the Kansas City region. Fortunately, WaterOne is in a strong financial position and can address the problems affecting the Water District without state help if necessary.

Whitney Wilson

The Kansas Water Office monitors four areas of water policy issues: sustainability across the supply chain, flooding impacts, groundwater quality, reservoir sediment management. All of these areas are of particular concern for WaterOne operations.

WaterOne already makes significant investments in the Milford, Tuttle Creek, and Perry Lake reservoirs. Tuttle Creek Reservoir has seen a 40% decline in water storage capacity since the 1950’s due to an increase in sedimentation. This reduction is a challenge for Kansans because reservoirs deliver water in various ways to roughly 2/3 of the population. In 2011, Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) appeared in Milford lake and 2020 expenditures to restore Milford rank 3rd highest for Kansas water sustainability projects. WaterOne works with neighboring water suppliers to decrease nutrient runoff from Milford Lake, which in turn reduces the prevalence of HABs.

WaterOne has been an influential steward of water management practices in Kansas, primarily due to the efforts of WaterOne’s General Manager. Great stewardship also begs the question, “what can we be doing better?”

Changing climate has confirmed the need for WaterOne to innovate water management practices to ultimately preserve our water sources so that our community can continue to thrive.

Kansas experiences extreme drought and extreme flooding – sometimes both in the same year. This fluctuation puts stress on the infrastructure that delivers clean water to our homes. WaterOne should continue to do long term financial planning for the supply chain and look out for rising risks associated with changes in climate.

WaterOne should work more closely with community-based organizations and the County to increase support for local programs aimed at further reducing chemical and contaminant runoff from the watershed. This year, the Little Blue River Watershed received its first health grade card, and it was a failing grade by Heartland Conservation Alliance. If the watershed is contaminated and restoration does not take place, our waste-water treatment costs will continue to increase. While WaterOne is the drinking water utility, we all need to be good stewards in this area.

Increasing public awareness of sustainable water usage and offering easy, affordable programs for families to participate in is more important than ever. Previously elected officials and non-governmental entities have all worked to instill concepts of rain gardens and sustainable water usage in the past. I estimate the adoption of these programs to be between 5-10% across Johnson County. To keep our water prices from spiking, we must implement these solutions within our community.

Ullyses Wright

The Kansas Water Authority was established in 1981 within and as part of the Kansas Water Office. The KWA provides the leadership to ensure that water policies and programs address the needs of all Kansans.

The KWA consists of 13 voting members who are appointed by the Governor or Legislative leadership. KWA is statutorily within and a part of the KWO. The KWA is responsible for advising the Governor, Legislature and Director of the Kansas Water Office on water policy issues and for approving the Kansas Water Plan, federal contracts, administration regulations and legislation proposed by the KWO.

Inadequate funding can affect the outcome of set policies. The organization can, and should lobby the Governor and legislators for adequate funding.

Water District Board Member 7

Mark Parkins (incumbent)

One of the most important statewide policy issues to WaterOne are how flood control reservoirs are maintained. Major surface water sources to the Kaw River can affect the quality of our water. These reservoirs are recreational areas that hold back significant amounts of water to control flooding and are managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). The lakes are a combination of commerce/recreation, flood control, potable water resource, and wildlife habitat.

The Kansas Water Authority was formed to develop policies and programs relating to all water resources and assure that the needs of all Kansans are considered. It is through the KWA that WaterOne can affect policy and represent interests in maintaining lakes that flow into the Kansas River. Some of the issues that are occurring in the lakes are deposition (silting) and harmful algae blooms (HABs). Silting can reduce the capacity of the reservoir and HABs can have toxic effects on people, fish, birds and other wildlife. These issues are affected by the basin lands that surround the reservoirs. Through the KWA, WaterOne representation has a voice in how to address these and other water problems. Funding and lobbying on behalf of these challenges is necessary at the State level. We need to pursue budget allocations that can help mitigate erosion and/or silting to retain lake shores. We need to pursue interaction with other stake holders to reduce the potential for an algae bloom. Specifically, WaterOne has been a lead stakeholder in a project on Milford Reservoir to promote land management practices around the reservoir to reduce nutrient run-off. Hopefully, this will decrease HABs and serve as an example of successful action.

I have personally attended committee hearings in Topeka, where possible solutions have been discussed. I have interacted with local Kansans that can help affect solutions. Additionally, I have attended several of the Governor’s Conference on the Future of Water in Kansas, held each November. My involvement on these issues will become more effective if I am re-elected. As with any task, consistent representation will produce more actual results. I look forward to more involvement in these policy issues.

Chris Stelzer

Water quality is always a top priority. WaterOne has maintained very high standards and with the addition of the new ozone treatment plant will be in a position to continue providing some of the best potable water in the country. That said, the cost of maintaining those high standards is affected the the quality of the source water. To keep healthy and clean Kansas and Missouri rivers for WaterOne customers and all other public user WaterOne should continue to promote good land use practices for farms in these river basins, such as no-till farming and local grass buffer zones to reduce farm chemical and fertilizer run off.

Tomorrow we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to item three:

What statewide water policy issues are most important to WaterOne‘s operations? How can the organization play a key role in addressing those issues?