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The Kansas River Watershed

When most people think of the Kansas
River they think of the main river itself, beginning at the point where the Republican and Smoky Hill Rivers join in Junction City and ending at the point where the Kansas River joins the Missouri River in Kansas City. That is about 173 miles of river channel.

But the Kansas River Watershed includes all of the tributaries that flow into the main river; the Republican River, Smoky Hill, the Big Blue River, and many others flow into the Kansas River from throughout its watershed.

All told, the Kansas river drains an area of 36,000 square miles of land in Kansas  (almost the entire northern half of the state), 11,000 square miles in Nebraska, and 6,000 square miles in Colorado—53,000 square miles in all.

In turn, the Kansas River is itself a tributary of the Missouri River. The larger Missouri River Watershed, in which the Kansas River Watershed is nested, drains almost ten times as much land--523,000 square miles.

To complete the picture, the Missouri River is a tributary of the Mississippi River. The Mississippi River Watershed drains 1.83 million square miles! This is forty percent of the United States (not including Alaska and Hawaii). It is the second largest watershed in the world.*

So the Kansas River Watershed is nested within the Missouri River Watershed, and the Missouri River Watershed is nested within the Mississippi River Watershed, making all of us in northern Kansas part of a truly world class river system.

Here is an interactive Google Map of the Kansas River watershed, if you would like to view it in Google Earth click here

So What is a Watershed?

No matter where you live in the world, you live in a "watershed." You're sitting in a watershed right now.

A watershed is bordered by higher ground, and since water runs downhill a watershed can be defined by the area of land that catches rain and snow and drains or seeps into a common point. Watersheds can drain into a marsh, stream, river, lake, ocean, or even into the groundwater. Homes, farms, ranches, forests, small towns, big cities and open land can all be part of watersheds.

Some watersheds cut across county, state, and even international borders, and may be millions of acres in size. Smaller watersheds can be nested into larger watersheds, just as creeks drain into rivers, and rivers run to the ocean. The United States has been divided into a series of smaller and smaller watersheds, and each has been given a Hydrologic Unit Code (HUC). The HUC number can be thought of as something like a Zip Code for rivers.

The Kansas River Watershed contains several sub-basins: the Upper Republican, Kansas-Republican, Solomon, Smoky-Saline Watersheds. Each of these are in turn divided into smaller watersheds whose HUC numbers are given on the map below.

Nested within the Kansas River Watershed are its major tributaries, the Republican and Smoky Hill Rivers, which come together at Junction City to form the main Kansas River; the Delaware River, the Wakarusa River, and the Blue River each with large flood control reservoirs (Perry, Clinton and Tuttle Creek Reservoirs); and many smaller rivers and streams. Large watersheds like the Kansas River Watershed contain many sub-watersheds. Management to improve water quality occurs at the level of these sub-watersheds.

Kansas-Republican River Watershed Sub-watersheds:
HUC 10250016 - Middle Republican
HUC 10250017 - Lower Republican
HUC 10270101 - Upper Kansas
HUC 10270102 - Middle Kansas
HUC 10270103 - Delaware
HUC 10270104 - Lower Kansas
HUC 10270205 - Lower Big Blue
HUC 10270206 - Upper Little Blue

Plans to reduce sedimentation in flood control reservoirs, reduce non-point source pollution harming drinking water supplies, and other important water quality concerns are developed by the Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategies (WRAPS). There are several WRAPS groups operating in the Kansas River Watershed, and we provide information on the Middle Kansas River WRAPS (which includes the Upper Kansas River) and the Lower Kansas River WRAPS (which has a smaller scale project as well, the Upper Wakarusa River WRAPS).

The land in the Kansas River Watershed is mostly grassland and crop land, and it contains some of the largest tracks of native prairie left in the United States (the Flint Hills). But it is also home to over forty percent of the people of Kansas. All of this makes it an important region for agriculture, conservation, and those of us who have the good fortune to live here.

* From: The Mississippi River Basin, in The Water Encyclopedia