A new agreement between the Grand River Dam Authority and the University of Oklahoma (OU) is intended to bring a greater focus to the waters of the Grand River watershed, while a related initiative will help share the importance of that watershed with the public across the four-state region.
At its December 2014 meeting, the GRDA Board of Directors gave its approval to the five-year interagency agreement that will take a comprehensive approach to watershed conservation, lake management and GRDA’s plan for relicensing its hydroelectric facilities with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
In January 2015, the board also approved an agreement with the Grand Lake Watershed Alliance Foundation (GLWAF) for the development of a watershed educational campaign.
Together, the initiatives represent a new and comprehensive approach to this important natural resource that lies within the boundaries of Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
According to GRDA Assistant General Manager of Ecosystems/Lake Management Dr. Darrell Townsend, the 1935 legislation that established GRDA as a conservation and reclamation district for the Grand River was also comprehensive in its approach.
It addressed not only the waters, but also the entire watershed area in regards to irrigation, forestation and the “distribution of the waters of the Grand River and its tributaries … for other useful purposes.”
Today, nearly 75 years after GRDA constructed the first dam on the Grand River, plenty of useful purposes remain.
Whether the realm is recreation, industry, real estate, municipal uses, hydroelectric production or even economic development, the waters of the Grand River watershed are vital to a large and diverse region.
It is diverse because the watershed covers roughly 10,000 square miles, stretches across those four states and even straddles two separate Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regions.
From Joplin, Missouri to Fairland, Oklahoma and from Burlington, Kansas to Sulphur Springs, Arkansas, the watershed both impacts and is impacted by a large and diverse population area.
In his presentation to the GRDA Board, Townsend said the comprehensive agreement with the University of Oklahoma had several objectives, beginning with the establishment of a multidisciplinary team.
“This group will compile and assess watershed data” said Townsend. “They will also work to enhance public access to that data, target priority areas of watershed management and support GRDA’s FERC relicensing process for Pensacola Dam.”
Townsend also said the team will focus on parameters such as sedimentation, bacteria, dissolved oxygen, blue green algae and nutrients, as it works to develop and maintain a healthy watershed; another primary objective of the interagency agreement.
In recent years, Grand Lake has faced many of the same issues that other lakes in the country have faced, such as blue green algae and E.Coli.
Not only do those issues impact water quality but they also impact area economies.
Townsend pointed out that, as recently as August 2014, the city of Toledo, Ohio, spent close to $200 thousand for bottled water, during an algae-related water emergency that affected the city’s primary water supplies.
A comprehensive healthy watershed effort will address those issues going forward.
As for the agreement itself, Townsend added that GRDA already has a beneficial working history with OU. That partnership has led to scientific collaboration, new equipment for the GRDA Water Lab, and internship opportunities in the lab for university students.
Together, the two partners have addressed issues such as habitable structures on the lake shore, environmental remediation (in the tri-state mining district), storm water runoff (in Langley and Grove), and a flood routing study to assess rule curve modifications on water surface elevations in Miami, along with several others.
Townsend said university partners will provide technical expertise, experienced leadership and institutional support throughout the five-year comprehensive watershed plan.
“The OU partnership taps into a broad scientific knowledge base spanning multiple disciplines, said Townsend, “and that expertise becomes a valuable asset when working with a watershed of this size.”
Educating the public across such a large area is the primary goal of the GLWAF and the new agreement with GRDA will help both organizations raise awareness of the watershed and share the important ways the public can help care for this valuable natural resource.
GLWAF was formed in 2007 to help preserve, protect, and improve water quality within the four-state watershed. A 501(c) (3) non-profit corporation, GLWAF is the only organizational voice for the entire watershed.