The Kansas River Corridor--Its Geologic Setting, Land Use,
Economic Geology, and Hydrology
by Lawrence L. Brady (compiler), David A. Grisafe,
James R. McCauley, Gregory C. Ohlmacher, Hernán A. M. Quinodoz,
and Kenneth A. Nelson
Released as Kansas Geological Survey
Open-file Report 98-2, January 1998
- The Kansas River corridor is the major source
of sand and gravel for northeastern Kansas. Sand
and gravel is obtained either by river dredging or
pit dredging in the floodplain. The river dredges
produce some of the best-quality and
least-expensive sand in the United States. In October
1997, nine dredges operated in the Kansas River, all
on the middle to lower portion of the river where conditions
normally favor river dredging. In
1996, the Kansas River dredges produced about 2.4 million
tons of sand and gravel worth about
$8 million, which generated nearly $357,000 in
sand royalties to Kansas. In addition, seven pit
dredges operate within the Kansas River floodplain.
- In general, the lower portion of the Kansas
River (Topeka and below) favors river dredging while
the upper portion of the river favors pit dredging.
The broader floodplain, the lower price for land,
thinner overburden, and thick usable sand and
gravel deposits favor pit dredges along the upper part
of the river. Scarcity of land due to the narrow
floodplain and commercial/industrial
development, significant overburden thickness relative to
the thickness of available sand and gravel, and a
more dense population with political opposition to
extractive industries are the main reasons
river dredges are preferred in the lower part of
the Kansas River. A river dredge requires about
10 acres (4 ha) of land for the processing plant.
By contrast, a pit dredge needs about 100 acres (40
ha) of land for the plant, dredging acreage, and land
for overburden stockpiles. Studies along the
entire river floodplain, based on physical
limitations alone, have identified 74 potentially profitable
pit-dredging locations, with 49 of the 74 in Pottawatomie,
Wabaunsee, and Shawnee counties.
- The river valley averages 2.6 miles (4.2 km)
in width over its 138-mile (220-km) length. The
widest stretch of the river valley is
between Wamego and Rossville, where it is up to 4
miles (6.4 km) wide. Below Eudora, the valley
narrows significantly to less than 1.5 miles (2.4 km) and
in parts of this reach the valley is 1 mile (1.6 km)
or less in width.
- Included in the Kansas River corridor study area
are 1,700 square miles (4,400 km2) that include all
or part of six of the 10 largest cities in the state.
Today the population of the 10 counties in the study
area is estimated at about 40 percent of
the state's total. Most growth between the 1980
and the 1990 census occurred in Johnson County,
with Douglas, Leavenworth, Shawnee, and Riley counties
showing substantial gains.
- Grassland, with a coverage of 45 percent,
and cropland, at 28 percent coverage, are the two
most extensive landcovers in the corridor area. In
the floodplain area itself, cropland cover is 60
percent while grassland is second with 14 percent
coverage. The combined land-use categories of
commercial/industrial and residential, which
includes most of the developed areas, represents 7
percent of the floodplain and 9 percent of the corridor area.
- Use of alternate sources such as sand from
the Kansas River tributaries, or Missouri River
sand west of Kansas City, would result in increased
sand and gravel prices because of larger
transportation costs, which average about $0.10 per ton mile.
A moratorium on river dredging with only pit
dredges on the Kansas River floodplain would also
increase sand prices, particularly in the lower portion of
the Kansas River where demand is highest and potential
pit-dredge locations scarce.
- Based on population trends, a long-term demand
for both sand and gravel and crushed stone
aggregates should continue. Population projections
suggest that by the year 2025, nearly half of the
Kansas population will reside in the 10 counties along
the Kansas River. Planners and decision-makers
need to ensure that adequate long-term supplies of
sand and gravel and crushed stone are available to
meet future demands for aggregates along the
Kansas River corridor.
- The Kansas River is a dynamic system
carrying water and sediments. The
sediment-carrying capacity of the river is a function of
precipitation, sediment supply, channel characteristics,
and velocity of the water. Because these parameters
are highly variable, the sediment-carrying capacity
is also highly variable. The sediment-carrying
capacity of the river has been estimated in
previous studies to be in the range of one to two million
tons of sand per year. However, predictions of
sediment-carrying capacity are subject to
significant uncertainty, which should be taken into
account when making decisions and considering
- To minimize potential damage that might be
caused by a substantial lowering of the bed elevation in
the Kansas River, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
placed restrictions on the amount of sand
and gravel that is allowed to be dredged from
certain river reaches and limited the amount of annual
sand and gravel production within 15-mile
(24-km) zones along the river. This plan was phased
in gradually between 1991 and 1994. Restrictions
on production of Kansas River sand and gravel in
the Kansas City area have been offset by
sand-dredging activities in the Missouri River, but
Missouri River sand contains a small amount of
lignite, resulting in sand of a lower quality than sand
from the Kansas River.
- In general, the stream channel of the Kansas
River is considered to be in equilibrium or
slightly degrading, that is, being deepened by erosion.
Because of the effects of bedrock in the channel,
gravel armoring, and backwaters from the
Missouri River, Bowersock Dam, and the Johnson
County water intake, several reaches lack degradation.
Appreciation is expressed to Mr. Bill Penny of Penny Concrete, Inc., Mr. John
Eichman of Midwest Concrete Materials, Inc., Mr. Verne Dow of Dow Geological Services, and
Mr. Edward Moses, of the Kansas Aggregate Producers for site visits and information on
the Kansas sand and gravel industry. Discussions, reports, and data files on existing U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) regulations were provided by Mr. Robert Smith and
Mr. Robert Pearce of that agency in Kansas City. Dr. Dennis Baker of the Kansas
Conservation Commission provided data to the Kansas Geological Survey on Kansas dredging
operations. Appreciation also is extended to Lon Ingram, Mike Lackey, and Lewis Myers of
the Kansas Department of Transportation; and to Brad Johnson, Associated
Environmental, Inc., Manhattan, Kansas.
Considerable support was provided by Capt. Erik Blechinger while working on
his research paper for the M.S. degree in Civil Engineering at The University of Kansas.
He worked with several of the authors in reviewing available data and determining the
economics for floodplain dredging potential along the Kansas River.
Kansas Geological Survey personnel important to various phases of review and
development of the report include Dr. Lee Gerhard, Mr. Rex Buchanan, Dr. Pieter
Berendsen, Ms. Marla Adkins-Heljeson, Ms. Patricia Acker, and Ms. LeaAnn Davidson.
The Kansas Geological Survey compiled this publication
according to specific standards, using what is thought to be
the most reliable information available. The Kansas Geological
Survey does not guarantee freedom from errors or
inaccuracies and disclaims any legal responsibility or
liability for interpretations made from the publication
or decisions based thereon.
Kansas Geological Survey, Kansas River
Electronic version Jan. 13, 1998.
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