WICHITA — With a population of nearly 390,000, the city of Wichita has plenty of people depending on clean, reliable water. Kansas State University brought rural agricultural producers upstream from the city together with Wichita officials and the results are benefiting the farmers and Wichita residents, alike.

The project involves farmers voluntarily using best management practices, also called BMPs, including not tilling their fields. That helps reduce sediment and phosphorus going into public waterways, which in this case, flow into Wichita, said Ron Graber, watershed specialist with K-State Research and Extension. The result is cleaner water downstream in the Little Arkansas River, a key source of water for the city.

This project aims to address water quality holistically, targeting water quality practices to priority areas of the watershed by giving developers in Wichita the option to contribute to a yearly fee rather than installing stormwater treatment systems as part of their developments. The fee is then paid to farmers via a one-time, five-year contract for implementing water quality BMPs upstream of Wichita.

“This offsite stormwater BMP program is the first agreement of its kind in Kansas in which an urban area is paying landowners for practices that reduce pollutants, including sediments, in public waterways,” said Trisha Moore, K-State assistant professor of biological and agricultural engineering. “Rural and urban entities within the same watershed typically implement water quality programs separately, but rural-urban partnerships are increasingly viewed as the most effective way to manage water quality.”

The program is designed to keep water cleaner, reduce costs for developers, provide financial incentives for farmers (estimated $30 to $40 per acre per year) which partially offset the cost to farmers to implement BMPs, save money for the City of Wichita, and potentially reduce homeowners’ water bill if the city spends less to remove pollutants.

Through K-State’s Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategies (WRAPS) program, which works to protect water resources all over the state, Graber and Moore, along with Scott Schulte, environmental planner at Vireo, brought key people together in the urban and rural areas and developed the proposal.

After approval by the Wichita City Council, Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the program is in its first year.

Already, the program is estimated to have reduced sediment loads in runoff by 370 tons through adoption of no-till practices upstream of Wichita, Moore said: “This represents about 8.5 times more sediment than is estimated to be generated by new developments and redevelopments participating in the program.”

The cost to achieve this sediment reduction through the offsite program is estimated at $42 per ton of sediment, Moore said. The cost to remove sediment from stormwater with hydrodynamic separators typically used in Wichita to address water quality issues would have cost nearly $20,000 per ton.

“K-State Research and Extension’s experience in the rural watershed management arena provided a catalyst for the program,” said Alan King, director of the department of public works and utilities for the City of Wichita. “The city relies on the relationships that have been established with producers through the successful Little Ark WRAPS program. The experience and relationships combine to ensure effective management of the offsite BMPs. This is critical, as sustaining the program in perpetuity is the key element of the program.”