The lower Kansas River is an important source of drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people in northeast Kansas. Constituents of concern identified by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) for streams in the lower Kansas River Basin include sulfate, chloride, nutrients, atrazine, bacteria, and sediment. Real-time continuous water-quality monitors were operated at three locations along the lower Kansas River from July 1999 through September 2004 to provide in-stream measurements of specific conductance, pH, water temperature, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen and to estimate concentrations for constituents of concern. Estimates of concentration and densities were combined with streamflow to calculate constituent loads and yields from January 2000 through December 2003. The Wamego monitoring site is located 44 river miles upstream from the Topeka monitoring site, which is 65 river miles upstream from the DeSoto monitoring site, which is 18 river miles upstream from where the Kansas River flows into the Missouri River. Land use in the Kansas River Basin is dominated by grassland and cropland, and streamflow is affected substantially by reservoirs.
Water quality at the three monitoring sites varied with hydrologic conditions, season, and proximity to constituent sources. Nutrient and sediment concentrations and bacteria densities were substantially larger during periods of increased streamflow, indicating important contributions from nonpoint sources in the drainage basin.
During the study period, pH remained well above the KDHE lower criterion of 6.5 standard units at all sites in all years, but exceeded the upper criterion of 8.5 standard units annually between 2 percent of the time (Wamego in 2001) and 65 percent of the time (DeSoto in 2003). The dissolved oxygen concentration was less than the minimum aquatic-life-support criterion of 5.0 milligrams per liter less than 1 percent of the time at all sites.
Dissolved solids, a measure of the dissolved material in water, exceeded 500 milligrams per liter about one-half of the time at the three Kansas River sites. Larger dissolved-solids concentrations upstream likely were a result of water inflow from the highly mineralized Smoky Hill River that is diluted by tributary flow as it moves downstream.
Concentrations of total nitrogen and total phosphorus at the three monitoring sites exceeded the ecoregion water-quality criteria suggested by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the entire study period. Median nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations were similar at all three sites, and nutrient load increased moving from the upstream to downstream sites. Total nitrogen and total phosphorus yields were nearly the same from site to site indicating that nutrient sources were evenly distributed throughout the lower Kansas River Basin. About 11 percent of the total nitrogen load and 12 percent of the total phosphorus load at DeSoto during 2000-03 originated from wastewater-treatment facilities.
Escherichia coli bacteria densities were largest at the middle site, Topeka. On average, 83 percent of the annual bacteria load at DeSoto during 2000-03 occurred during 10 percent of the time, primarily in conjunction with runoff.
The average annual sediment loads at the middle and downstream monitoring sites (Topeka and DeSoto) were nearly double those at the upstream site (Wamego). The average annual sediment yield was largest at Topeka. On average, 64 percent of the annual suspended-sediment load at DeSoto during 2000-03 occurred during 10 percent of the time. Trapping of sediment by reservoirs located on contributing tributaries decreases transport of sediment and sediment-related constituents.
The average annual suspended-sediment load in the Kansas River at DeSoto during 2000-03 was estimated at 1.66 million tons. An estimated 13 percent of this load consisted of sand-size particles, so approximately 216,000 tons of sand were transported