Nature Conservancy of Kansas, a leading conservation organization, has pledged $2 million to improve the quality of Kansas streams and rivers.
During the announcement Thursday afternoon, director Rob Manes pointed out that about 75 percent of Kansas waterways are impaired for some forms of human usage, according to a report by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
“We’re talking about (streams) that can have health issues, recreational issues and economic issues,” said Manes. “It seems like every year we have large reservoirs completely shut down because of (blue-green) algae blooms. That is largely due to what’s coming down the river.”
Kris Knight, Nature Conservancy of Kansas conservation director, said the $2 million was given to his group by the David T. Beals III Charitable Trust, of Kansas City. Manes said it was the largest single cash gift ever given to Nature Conservancy of Kansas.
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About $1.8 million of the gift will be put into an endowment to fund one full-time position and annually sponsor five or six fellowships for college students to help work on stream projects. The remaining $200,000 can be put directly towards stream projects.
A main purpose of the new program will be to assist groups in Kansas already dedicated to improving streams and water quality in Kansas. Manes pointed to the successes of some private groups, such as the Kansas Alliance of Wetlands and Streams, the Arkansas River Coalition and the Friends of the Kaw. He also cited several cities, including Wichita, that have been working to improve water quality within streams that flow through the towns. Manes and Knight said the new program will also be targeting landowners who want to improve drainage areas within their property.
Manes said he hopes the program can combine the efforts of such groups to create a “comprehensive approach.”
Knight, who oversees all conservation programs and projects the group has in Kansas, said the Nature Conservancy’s world-wide presence could greatly help groups working towards improved water quality in Kansas. The Nature Conservancy is already taking a major role in aggressive stream conservation programs in Colorado, Oklahoma and Missouri.
Currently the Nature Conservancy of Kansas manages about 100,000 acres in Kansas within lands they own or have helped get enrolled in conservation easements. Knight said they provide assistance to landowners wanting to improve the environmental quality of their land on another estimated 200,000 acres.
Manes had no immediate schedule for when the new program could begin helping improve water quality in Kansas. Instead, he placed more emphasis on how long the project could impact Kansas waterways.
“In 10 or 15 years this might be the biggest function of the Nature Conservancy of Kansas,” he said. “It may eclipse anything else we’ve done.”