J500 Media and the Environment

What’s up with the Kaw? by amandat09

I was in the Cayman Islands with my family a few years ago when a cab driver asked us where we were from. When we told him Kansas, his reaction surprised us. He starting rattling tales of how he loved the idea of wide open land and sprawling space with fresh rivers. He said he would trade the perfectly sculpted beaches and salty waters in a heartbeat for a fresh river or two. In an attempt not to dash his grandeur vision of Kansas, I withheld my negative comments on what our rivers can be like…

Last year, my best friend’s roommate started complaining about a rash on her arms and back. Big red welts starting showing up on her skin, and her doctor gave her a pretty good guess as to the reason: she’s on the KU rowing team, and contaminants from the Kansas River were most likely the cause. It went away after she took three different prescriptions, but the idea that a river the produces about 50% of the water for Lawrence residents can produce itchy welts when it comes in contact with skin makes me cringe.

Have you ever gone swimming in the Kaw?

Have you ever gone swimming in the Kaw?

I’ve worked with Debbie Baker at the Kansas Biological Survey as a story source a few times during my journalism career here at KU. I’ve taken an interest in water issues with the rivers around Kansas, and she’s told me about a lot of its issues. And….it can be gross.  Runoff from agriculture around Lawrence can result in larger-than-normal amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous in the Kaw. If you ever notice your tap water tasting or smelling a bit off, agriculture is the reason why. These are also responsible for eutrofication of our rivers, which is why they can look so…..dead.

I’ve lived in Kansas my whole life, and have yet to find these beautiful clear rivers that our cab driver had so nostalgically ingrained in his mind.

-Amanda Thompson