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Building Tribal Capacity to Improve Water Quality in Kansas

Eroding streambanks and excessive levels of sediment, nutrients, and pesticides exist in many Kansas streams that drain cropland. Establishing riparian forest buffers and streambank stabilization have helped address these issues and improve water quality.

On the Prairie Band of the Potawatomi Tribe Reservation in northeastern Kansas, an educational project established several demonstration sites of riparian forest buffers and streambank stabilization efforts.

The Potawatomi Reservation lies just 20 miles north of Topeka, the state capital. The 121-square-mile reservation is a mosaic of land ownership and land uses. Almost 60 percent of the area is in non-tribal ownership, with intensively grazed pasture as the predominant land use—approximately 55 percent, followed by cropland at approximately 35 percent—with lesser components of woodland and residential/commercial areas.

Big Soldier and Little Soldier Creeks drain the reservation and run into the Kansas River, from which several eastern Kansas municipalities draw their water supply. Badly eroding streambanks are a problem throughout the region. This project provided a much-needed educational and conservation program to an underserved community in Kansas.

Conservation techniques employed a variety of practices, including cedar revetments and willow posts to stabilize eroding streambanks, and the planting of native prairie grass and forest buffers to reduce pesticide and nutrient loading. Staff from several tribal departments, as well as high school and college student tribal members, have worked alongside Kansas State University faculty and students and other agency personnel to install the demonstration areas, thereby building tribal capacity to continue these practices.

Working together, they established four riparian buffer and three streambank stabilization demonstration sites on the reservation. The riparian buffers consist of a 20-foot-wide prairie grass filter strip along the crop field edge. Two rows of shrubs appear next, including American plum, Nanking cherry, choke cherry, and red twig dogwood.

Tree seedlings planted near the stream include black walnut, bur oak, pecan, green ash, hackberry, sycamore, and silver maple. The team added red elm (Ulmus rubra), which is of special cultural significance to the tribe. Altogether, they planted more than 4,000 trees and shrubs.

From this project:

  • The tribe has independently started other streambank stabilization and riparian area restoration projects, using skills they learned during the education/demonstration project.
  • Several student workers trained during the project have gone onto full-time positions with USDA and in the agricultural field, taking with them an appreciation for working with a Native American tribe.

Contacts: Charles J. Barden, Kansas State University Research and Extension Forester; Greg Wold, Planning and Environmental Protection, Prairie Band of the Potawatomi.


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