A group of stakeholders believes increased adoption of no-till and cover crops could reduce sedimentation problems in a Kansas watershed and help a nuclear power plant operate more efficiently.

The Kansas Alliance for Wetlands and Streams (KAWS) is hosting a two-day workshop Aug. 28- 29 in hopes of increasing interest in no-till and covers, as the group works to restore the Eagle Creek watershed in east-central Kansas.

The problem is this: the Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corp. relies on water from the John Redmond Reservoir in nearby Burlington, Kan., for water to cool the plant.

When water levels are low in the cooling lake, gates at John Redmond Reservoir are opened and water flows into the Neosho River, from where it’s pumped to the cooling lake at the plant, which employs more than 1,000 people.

A reliable water supply is essential for proper cooling and operating efficiency at nuclear plants. But due in large part to sedimentation issues, the reservoir has lost 41% of its storage capacity since it was built, says Wes Fleming, a project coordinator for KAWS. “It’s silting in at a faster rate than was planned,” he says.

The state of Kansas plans to dredge the reservoir in the next year or so to improve capacity. But earlier this year, Fleming was approached by Dan Haines, a biologist who works for Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corp., about establishing a pilot project for no-till and covers in the affected Eagle Creek and John Redmond watersheds.

KAWS, with funding from Wolf Creek facility and other partners, is working with county conservation districts, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy groups, Kansas State University county ag agents and other stakeholders to mount the campaign.

County or NRCS agents have been supplying KAWS with the names of farmers interested in no-tilling or seeding covers, which has lead to onfarm gatherings of local officials and growers to establish best practices to be adopted and used, potentially on a cost-share basis, to improve water quality and quantity.

Fleming says there’s plenty of research in Kansas to illustrate how no-till can stabilize or even enhance yields when compared to conventional tillage, but the information doesn’t always filter to a local level.

No-till adoption is as low as 10% in the watershed’s eastern counties, where there’s mostly cattle or a mix of cattle and cropping, while more heavily cropped western counties see adoption rates of 30% or higher.

“We have a lot of really productive river-bottom ground still being tilled,” Fleming says. “I’d guess the reason is because their neighbor isn’t no-tilling, or they tried it and it wasn’t successful for one reason or another.”

As we debate how to solve the environmental challenges facing agriculture, I think this shows that grassroots programs hold the greatest  promise for finding real solutions.