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John Redmond Dam and Reservoir

The John Redmond Reservoir Outlet releases ten thousand cubic feet of water per second. // Credit: USGS

Built by the US Army Corps of Engineers after the Great Flood of 1951 inundated parts of downtown Burlington and Strawn with as much as 30 feet of water, the John Redmond Dam and Reservoir in eastern Kansas was completed in 1964 to provide flood control, water conservation, recreation, and water supply.

After a severe drought hit the region in 2012 and 2013 and lake levels dropped alarmingly low, however, it became clear that 50 years of sediment build up was beginning to to seriously impact the dam’s operations – according to the Kansas Water Office, sediment was accumulating 80% faster than anticipated. In total, the lake had lost nearly 40% of its storage capacity due to sedimentation.

In order to meet local water supply requirements, the Corps of Engineers began examining the feasibility of a dredging and restoration project under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

At its most basic level, NEPA requires federal agencies to carry out a review process designed to identify any major environmental, socio-economic, or public health impacts a federal project may have before construction can begin. It also required the Corps of Engineers to conduct public outreach to communities that stood to be impacted by the project as well as consult with the Kansas Water Office and other relevant state agencies.

When completing the (EIS), the Corps discovered that the agency’s proposed action – raising the conservation pool – would have the indirect result of flooding hundreds of acres of nearby wildlife refuge areas, posing a risk to both protected wildlife and deer and turkey hunting, and destroy one of the only local boat ramps to the lake.

Using the NEPA process, the Corps was able to work with the state to replace both the ramp and wildlife areas and minimize environmental impacts, while still successfully dredging more than 3 million cubic feet of sediment from the reservoir.

That sediment was in turn placed in five containment ponds on nearby land, two on federally owned land and three on land owned by local farmers – the environmental impact study had already determined that the environmental impacts of the five containment ponds would be negligible and would not contain concentrated levels of ant contaminants.

Completed in 2016, the dredging project is the first of a multi-phase project that the Corps plans to carry out in the next decade. Unfortunately, additional work reducing sediment in the watershed above John Redmond will be necessary to ensure future water supply demand is met through the year 2045 in the Neosho River basin.

John Redmond continues to serve as the municipal water source for 19 downstream municipalities and six industrial users, including Wolf Creek Nuclear Power Plant.

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