Archive for Thursday, November 8, 2007

Ignorance make Kaw overlooked asset

November 8, 2007

The Kaw River has become the Rodney Dangerfield of streams and rivers in the Midwest.

All too frequently, it has been described in a negative way. It's dirty and polluted. It floods and destroys anything constructed next to it. It's so dangerous; you will fall in and drown if you get near it. If you eat fish caught in the Kaw, you are bound to become ill. The riverbed is made of quicksand that will swallow you if you step on it. It's home to blood-sucking mosquitoes that will attack anyone near the river, leaving them candidates for a transfusion. There are hordes of deadly water moccasins lying in wait to sink their fangs in passersby. And finally, it is an obstacle that divides land, requiring a bridge to the other side.

If Kansans are to correct the numerous misconceptions about their namesake waterway, they must explore it closely -- on its surface with a canoe or kayak or along trails through riparian areas filled with flora and fauna (some of it unique to the river).

Much of what we deal with in our daily life gives us fear until we become familiar with it and find we have little to fear if it is dealt with and understood with respect.

The Kansas River historically has carried a load of soil in suspension. That very sediment created the nutrient rich agricultural lands in its floodplain. The river in the primary source of raw water in Johnson County distributed by Water One from its intake downstream from the 1-435 bridge. Though flooding has not been eliminated, 18 federally engineered and funded reservoirs have been constructed on major tributaries along the Kaw's 175-mile course. Structures can be safely built on the floodplain if they are elevated above the 100-year floodplain.

Personally, I consider the river no more dangerous than the state's lakes. More people drown in our lakes simply because more people use them for recreation.

As humans, we are polluters. Even the world's oceans now have fish contaminated with heavy metals to the point a steady diet of tuna is said to be unhealthy. The same is true of Kansas River fish.

As for quicksand, there is no up swelling of water from below that holds sand grains in suspension and unstable.

The river is a natural home for mosquitoes but so is my backyard. And I wear an insect repellant during those times, just as I wear protection when working with honeybees. If there are water moccasins in Kansas, they don't live in the Kansas River -- maybe in Cherokee County in the southeast corner of the state.

We have been so successful in bridging the Kaw that most drivers are unaware how valuable an asset the river is to our region. Learn more about your backyard and give it the respect it is due. Become a member of Friends of the Kaw by going online to www.kansasriverkeeper.com.

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