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Statement about City of Lawrence Nitrogen Discharge into Kansas River

Post Date:11/21/2017 1:22 PM

Update 11/30/17: WaterOne has partially switched back to drawing supply from the Kansas River, and is currently drawing a mix from both the Kansas and Missouri Rivers. WaterOne is confident in resuming intake from the Kansas River now that it is receiving early indicator data from an upriver USGS river analyzer and daily operational data from the City of Lawrence. In addition, WaterOne continues with enhanced daily monitoring at its Kansas River intake. WaterOne water remains exceptional in quality for its customers. Protecting the safety of drinking water remains our focus and priority. 

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Beginning Friday, November 10th, the City of Lawrence began the process of discharging up to 30 million gallons of nitrogen-contaminated ground water and storm water run-off into the Kansas River. The contaminated water is sourced from the former Farmland fertilizer plant and will be discharged directly into the Kansas River at a rate of 0.5 million gallons per day until April 2018, when river flows of at least 1000 cubic feet per second (cfs) occur. The city is responsible for the Farmland site in order to redevelop it as a business park, including the environmental clean-up necessary from contaminated run-off leftover from the fertilizer operation. The run-off is being held in storage basins and tanks that are now at capacity. As an alternative to trucking the water offsite and distributing it on farm fields, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment has given the City of Lawrence special authorization to discharge the untreated water into the Kansas River.

WaterOne draws and treats water from the Kansas and Missouri Rivers, and is the closest direct intake downriver from Lawrence. WaterOne also relies on the Kansas river via wells, as do the cities of Olathe, DeSoto, and Eudora. The Farmland discharge is contaminated with nitrogen which breaks down into nitrate, a federally regulated contaminant that water providers like WaterOne are required to monitor and disclose. High nitrates can be harmful to fish and humans by depleting oxygen in the water. The federal regulatory maximum contaminant level to produce safe drinking water is 10 parts per million (ppm). Due to dilution factors, the overall levels of nitrates projected to reach WaterOne’s intake from Lawrence’s discharge are not expected to cause harm to humans. Nonetheless, WaterOne remains vigilant to monitoring nitrate levels continuously to ensure safe drinking water for its customers.

As a precautionary measure, WaterOne made the decision to switch to the Missouri River to provide 100% of its supply until it has high confidence that nitrate levels in the Kansas River are well within safe limits. At WaterOne’s request, Lawrence has agreed to pay for the cost of operating an online analyzer upriver at DeSoto. This will provide continuous nitrate concentration data and give WaterOne ample advance notice should the decision be made to switch water sources again. WaterOne and its customers are fortunate to have two surface water sources to draw from, especially in circumstances such as these; many communities do not.

Protecting the safety of its customers is the highest priority at WaterOne, and these steps are being taken as a part of its commitment to protecting public health. At WaterOne’s request, the City of Lawrence has put up an informational webpage on its website to provide further information about its decision and a contact for questions at lawrenceks.org/farmland

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Fast Fact

WaterOne is an independent, non-profit water utility, proudly serving 400,000+ customers in the Johnson County area.