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KGS proposed study discussed by Great Bend Prairie RAC
Data sought will help determine use of disposal wells
new_vlc_GP RAC water meeting pic.jpg
Members of the Great Bend Prairie Regional Action Committee met Monday afternoon. Chairman Keith Miller, second from left, informed members about a proposal from the Kansas Geological Survey to study an area in South Central Kansas to learn more about the Arbuckle sediment layer where wastewater is being disposed.

Members of the Great Bend Prairie Regional Action Committee met Monday afternoon at the Great Bend Events Center. While work on the group’s priority goals was intended to be the focus of the meeting, it was agreed to table the work until the next meeting, as the group waits for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to review data and work through technical aspects of the Rattlesnake Creek impairment, which Orrin Feril, Stafford, provided a brief update on. 

RAC Chairman Keith Miller reported on his efforts to educate state legislators about a proposed Kansas Geological Survey study that could go a long way toward ensuring groundwater remains safe in South Central Kansas.

Diane Knowles with the Kansas Water Office provided some background. More information is needed about the Arbuckle layer of sediment where oil and natural gas are found in the state. The Kansas Water Authority hopes the state will fund the study, estimated to cost around $1 million, to gather data to determine how to manage it in a sustainable way now that it is receiving more use. 

One of those uses is disposal of industrial, municipal and produced wastewater. The Kansas Water Office has taken the lead in organizing an Arbuckle study committee to determine how to design a study that will provide the information the KGS is seeking, using information from two types of underground disposal wells. 

Wells that industry and municipalities use to dispose of waste are regulated and monitored by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, and are generally gravity fed, while wells used by the oil and gas industry are regulated and monitored by the Kansas Corporation commission, and are generally pressurized. These differences make designing a study tricky, so representatives from the relevant agencies and key stakeholders are working to determine the best course of action to move forward. Cooperation will be key because drilling into the Arbuckle, because of its depth, is expensive. 

It’s important to find out more about the Arbuckle layer where this waste is being disposed of because the thickness and makeup of the layer likely varies in places. Concerns were raised when reports that wastewater levels were rising in some wells unexpectedly, indicating they might not be absorbing into the Arbuckle as expected. A better understanding of where and by how much should help determine how to continue operating these disposal wells without adverse effects, and protect fresh groundwater.

There are 14 regional planning areas that report to the Kansas Water Office, each with a Regional Action Committee. The Great Bend Prairie RAC has members representing all water users, including agriculture, public water supply, watershed protection, industry and commerce, conservation and environment, and the general public. The committee serves residents of 12 counties: Barton, Pawnee, Stafford, Rush, Rice, Pratt, Edwards, Kiowa, Ness, Hodgeman, Ellsworth and Reno. The current focus area of the group is to achieve water use sustainability by 2025. Projects it is currently working on include: enhance poor quality water monitoring for areas with saltwater disposal lines, disposal wells and areas with high salt sources to prevent freshwater contamination. Initiate research and development of feed wheat as an alternative feed source.

South central Kansas considered for initial study

In its proposal, the KGS suggested four areas to study, and the Arbuckle study group has narrowed down the list. Initially, the group will focus on the largest square of concern, which includes the area encompassing Reno, Harvey, Butler, Kingman, Sedgwick, Harper, Sumner and Cowley counties.

Some stakeholders aren’t waiting for a study to be conducted before trying to find more sustainable ways of disposing of waste.

About five years ago when seismicity was an issue, the KCC reduced the amount of water that could be injected in disposal wells within a certain amount of time. Now, the commission is considering making the change a permanent one.

The City of Hutchinson disposes of municipal wastewater through disposal wells, Knowles said. It has begun considering ways it can gradually taper off the practice over a number of years.  

Meanwhile, Miller and other RAC chairmen attended two meetings in Topeka where they learned about the proposed study and spent much time visiting legislators representing their various RACs. Miller said legislators that represent Great Bend Prairie RAC are supportive of the effort. The KWA has included funding for the study in its budget. Now, it’s up to the state to come up with the money.