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