When you paddle your canoe down the Kansas River you can’t help but notice that there are a lot of pipes sticking out of the bank. Ever wonder what's at the other end of the pipe? And what's coming out of it?
Well, we did. That's why the Riverkeeper paddled all the way from Junction City to Kansas City (171 miles!) to map all of the pipes on the river. You can River Inventory website.
It turns out that what's on the other end of the pipe are all the things that we use in everyday life: these pipes carry water from sewage treatment plants, stormwater outfalls, power plants, factories, and all kinds of business and residential sources.
When this water is polluted and enters the river from a place like a factory it is what we call a point source, or “end-of-pipe” pollution. When water is discharged into the river, the amounts and types of pollutants that are allowed to come out of the pipe are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Water Act.
When water flows over your lawn and driveway during a rainstorm the water makes its way to the river without being treated in a sewage treatment plant. It may flow overland into the river, without ever coming out of an "identifiable source" like a pipe. Water that picks up pollution by flowing over a lawn or field that has been sprayed with fertilizer or pesticides is called non-point source pollution. Another common term is “stormwater runoff” because rainfall washes chemicals off the land and into the river.
Non-point source pollution is the biggest cause of water pollution in the U.S. and it is one of the hardest to control. Imagine how much motor oil is washed in the river during a storm—you have hundreds of neighbors with cars that leak small amounts of oil onto their driveways and the streets in your neighborhood, each contributing a small amount of pollution to the watershed you live in. When it rains, all that oil is picked up by the water flowing down the street —and from there to the river. How do you control thousands of little sources of pollution? That’s why we all have to work together to control sormwater runoff, it is something we all contribute to and something we can all help to control. The old saying “it takes a village” is very true when it comes to helping our river by reducing non-point source pollution.
Now we all hate seeing trash in the river...but did you know that anything you throw out a car window onto a street can wind up in the river? Its true, all sorts of things wash down storm drains and straight into the river. The slogan "reduce, reuse, recycle" can help us keep plastic bags and bottles out of the Kaw. Everybody, including the fish, frogs, birds, and other critters will thank you for it. Please don't liter, and tell your friends its a nasty habit to have. And if you are inclined to participate in a river clean-up, please contact the Riverkeeper for information on the next Friends of the Kaw clean-up event.
The Friends of the Kaw considers the Kansas River to be a 171-mile park for everyone. That means you, the plants, animals, bugs, everyone. We work with river communities to develop boat access, riverfront parks, and hiking and biking trails along the river for your use. You can see all the great recreational opportunities on our "Life on the Kaw" website. We hope that everybody will learn about the geology, natural history, human history and culture of people living along the river and to care for it and help preserve it for future generations (that's you!)