Kansas kicks off $750K project to improve water quality, soil health

Capitol Bureau

HOLTON, Kan. (KSNT) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded $750,000 to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment in Holton on Wednesday to go to a new farm-focused project to help improve the state’s water quality. 

The federal dollars are being used to help protect the state’s agriculture industry and water ecosystem from toxic algal blooms developing from surface runoff. Runoff occurs when harmful nutrients found in soil enter water sources through erosion.

“The challenge is when these nutrients contribute to water quality problems, including the growth of harmful algal blooms in rivers and lakes here in Kansas,” said Edward Chu, Acting Regional Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 7 in Lenexa.

More runoff could lead to fewer nutrients in the soil, which can take a toll on some of the state’s leading crops. It’s a challenge that can be prevented with the right farming techniques, according to some conservationists. 

Gary Satter, executive director at Glacial Hills Resource Conservation and Development, said using cover crops is one method that helps maintain the soil’s nutrients, and also prevents runoff into rivers or streams. 

However, not all farmers use similar practices.

“There’s things that can be done better,” Satter said. “A lot of guys just aren’t wanting to jump into it, even though there are others that have been doing it for years.”

The state’s department of health and environment is one of 11 organizations sharing nearly $11 million total in Farmer to Farmer grant funding, which will be used to support soil health, habitat, resilience, and peer-to-peer information exchange among farmers to improve water quality and protect Kansans’ health.

“We owe it to our kids, grandkids, and all future generations of Kansans to leave our state better than we found it,” Gov. Laura Kelly said. “This grant will allow Kansas farmers to balance the need to increase agricultural productivity with the need to take care of our planet. I want to thank the EPA for its partnership and KDHE for working with our communities to distribute these funds that will improve water quality in Kansas and protect our environment.”

The three-year project will consist of farmers coaching each other to develop new strategies to help keep the soil and water safe.

“If we provide the resources, and help to convene people to get together, they’re going to convene and get together and something good is going to come out of it,” said Dr. Lee Norman, Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary.

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