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Hydropower in Kansas

Published on -5/8/2014, 9:33 AM

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The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism has in its description of the Arkansas River that "it may run dry on its surface in southwest Kansas, but picks up water as it flows through the state. By the time it reaches Wichita, there is often plenty of water for a scenic, leisurely float trip."

The U.S. Department of Energy eyes the same river as the primary reason Kansas recently was ranked 12th in the nation in terms of potential hydropower.

Sounds incredulous, doesn't it? A river that mostly remains underground for half its meander across the state having potential to create green energy?

The DOE and its Oak Ridge National Laboratory estimates there are 2.5 gigawatts of potential electrical energy in Kansas' rivers -- with the bulk coming from the Ark River.

"The number in Kansas is quite stunningly large," said David Barfield, chief engineer of the Kansas Division of Water Resources.

We'd have to agree, particularly since there is only one hydropower dam of any size in the state: The privately owned Bowersock Mills and Power Co. on the Kansas River in Lawrence.

Barfield said he still was trying to determine what the DOE is suggesting. As the report wasn't by any stretch a feasibility study, nor did it worry about financial constraints or political will, we suppose anything is possible.

Hydropower, which already accounts for 7 percent of electricity generation in this country, likely does have more potential. As technologies have evolved that don't require reservoirs or large dams, all that might be needed is access to water that's moving naturally.

"The river doesn't fall much, but it has plenty of volume," said one of the report's authors at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Barfield said engineers would have to study how to harness the underground portions of the river.

We would hope the Kansas Division of Water Resources conducts whatever studies it needs to gauge whether the idea has merit. It is no more fanciful than attempting to generate electricity from wind that sweeps across the state, and that already is in operation. Plus, falling water can be controlled in ways the wind cannot.

This state, and country, needs to develop all the renewable energy sources possible long before finite sources such as coal and oil run out. If the Arkansas River can provide electricity in addition to those leisurely float trips, we should take advantage.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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