For Release November 9, 1999

TMDLs and How Theyíll Impact You

by Chuck Otte, County Extension Agent

Reviewing from last week: Kansas surface waters are have certain impairments, but probably no worse than our neighboring states. We simply have done a much better job of testing our waters so we know where we stand. A plan has been developed to reduce the impairments of our surface waters and the Kansas/Lower Republican water basin is one of the first to be impacted. A major component of this management plan has been the development of TMDLs, Total Maximum Daily Loads of the pollutants causing the impairments.

Total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) are the levels of potential pollutants which, once reached, create an impairment for one of the potential uses of that surface water source. Water can have many different uses and the water protection plans place those uses in three different categories or goals.

The first goal is to protect and enhance ecosystems. This is probably the most restrictive goal because if water passes for these standards it will probably meet most of the rest. The only use included in this goal is aquatic life. An example of an impairment here would be atrazine levels exceeding three parts per billion (ppb). Three ppb of atrazine may not be a health hazard for people (we honestly donít yet know) but at three ppb many of the single cell aquatic plants (the bottom of the food chain) are impaired.

The next goal is to protect and enhance public health. We have five uses under this goal: fish consumption, shellfishing, swimming, secondary contact and domestic water supply. The one to really watch in the future is going to be shellfishing. We are starting to find that shellfish (fresh water mussels) are very sensitive to water quality. I feel that their health status may really start to drive a lot of the water quality discussions in future years. Write it down and see if Iím right!

The final goal is social and economic enhancement. The uses included under this goal are agricultural, both irrigation and livestock and cultural or ceremonial. Keep in mind that the largest use of water in Kansas is for agricultural crop irrigation.

In the overall Kansas/Lower Republican basin planning area these are the potential pollutants that are listed to be addressed: fecal coliform bacteria, ammonia, dissolved oxygen, chloride, sulfide, chlordane, zinc, selenium, nutrients, and sediments. Specifically in our area (lower Republican/upper Kansas) the pollutants that are being addressed through TMDLs are: fecal coliform bacteria, ammonia, dissolved oxygen, chloride and sulfate. This isnít to mean that the others aren't important, itís just that those listed have been given priority.

How does that impact you and me on a daily basis? One area that has received a lot of attention of late is municipal waste water treatment plants. All up and down the river basin communities are having to upgrade their facilities to meet new standards. But just as important, everyone with a private septic system needs to make sure that their system is properly installed and properly functioning. All livestock operations need to see that they are minimizing direct runoff from facilities into streams and rivers (and groundwater too). It doesnít matter whether you have 500 head of cattle or one horse, we all need to do our part.

Homeowners also need to be as attentive to their fertilization of yards and gardens as farmers are to their fertilization of fields. Sediment runoff needs to be prevented regardless of whether itís coming from a field, a quarry, a house or subdivision construction area or even a new road. We all depend on water quality and we all impact water quality. Letís become more aware of this and do our part to make sure we are having a positive impact!


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