Kansas Geological Survey
Winter 1998
Vol. 4.1

KGS Study Provides Information on Kansas River


The Kansas River corridor supplies most of the sand and gravel for the ten Kansas countied bordering the river




River Corridor Study–page 1

From the Director–page 2

World Wide Web–page 2

New Publications–page 3

Education Award–page 3

A Place To Visit–page 4





The Kansas River and its floodplain are the major sources of sand and gravel in northeastern Kansas. A report titled The Kansas River Corridor—Its Geologic Setting, Land Use, Economic Geology, and Hydrology was recently published by the Kansas Geological Survey. A summary of this report was included as an attachment in a multi-agency recreation study submitted to the legislature on January 12, 1998.

Controversy over expansion of sand dredging in the Kansas River prompted the 1996 Legislature to order a study of the river’s recreational opportunities. This study was conducted by five state agencies—the Kansas Department of Commerce and Housing, Kansas Water Office, Kansas Geological Survey, Kansas Biological Survey, and Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.

Survey geologist Larry Brady represented the KGS on the multi-agency task force. “The Survey’s role in the recreation study,” Brady said, “was to provide additional information on the river in general, with emphasis on sand and gravel production.”

As its title suggests, the Survey report provides a range of geological and hydrological information about the Kansas River and its corridor. The corridor is the area six miles on either side of the Kansas River from its headwaters at the confluence of the Smoky Hill and Republican rivers in Junction City to its junction with the Missouri River in Kansas City.

The Kansas River corridor supplies most of the sand and gravel for the 10 Kansas counties bordering the river. About 40 percent of the state’s population live in these 10 counties; by 2025, population projections suggest half the state’s population will be concentrated in these counties.

In 1996, dredges on the Kansas River produced about 2.4 million tons of sand and gravel worth about $8 million, which generated nearly $357,000 in sand royalties to the State. The river dredges produce some of the best quality and least expensive sand in the United States. Sand and gravel is also obtained by pit dredging in the floodplain. Currently, dredging operations in the Kansas River corridor include nine river dredges and seven pit dredges.

In general, the broad floodplain, thin overburden, and lower land prices make pit dredging more viable along the upper part of the river (Junction City to Topeka). On the lower part of the river (Topeka to Kansas City), the floodplain narrows, the overburden is greater, and land prices are higher, leading producers to favor in-river dredging. A recent study of the river floodplain (KGS Open-file Report 97-66) identified 74 potentially profitable pit-dredging locations, 49 of which are in Pottawatomie, Wabaunsee, and Shawnee counties.

A byproduct of glaciers that once covered the northeastern part of the state, the Kansas River probably began 600,000 years ago as an ice-margin stream that carried meltwater and sediments eastward along the edge of the glacier into the Missouri River. Since then, the course of the river has changed many times. Today it meanders 170 miles through its 138-mile-long river valley, and its basin, the area drained by the river and its tributaries, extends 500 miles westward from Kansas City to just northwest of Limon, Colorado, covering an area larger than the state of Iowa.

One of the recommendations from the multi-agency recreation study was that a portion, or portions, of the Kansas River be set aside exclusively for recreational use. “Both recreation and dredging can coexist on the river. We don’t want to pit one against the other,” Brady said. “We just want the decisions about recreational and commercial uses of the river to be based on all the available information.”

River dredge on the Kansas River near Topeka, Kansas.
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