Utilities Director Martha Tasker is part of an effort to restore her city's river after a diversion project dried it up in the 1960s
Managing water, wastewater and stormwater engineering keeps Martha Tasker looking toward the future. As Director of Utilities in Salina, Kansas, she sees the projects as intertwined and as assets to the community.
Restoring the original 6.8-mile Smoky Hill River channel through the heart of downtown is one example. “The river was right next to the water treatment plant when it was built,” says Tasker. “The raw water had a lot of sediment and sand in it, which heavy rains flushed out. Unfortunately, the rains also caused seasonal flooding.”
In 1961, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed a diversion channel and levee with inflow and outflow gates as part of the city’s flood-protection plan. The gates at the head and foot of the old channel funneled water to the treatment plant and back out into the main river. However, reducing the flow in the channel to 100 cubic feet per second caused major turbidity problems and enabled sediment to settle out and block it.
“In the 1980s, we moved the raw-water intake three miles to the main river and built a pump station and pipeline,” says Tasker, who designed the components. Today, the old channel bed collects stormwater, but the channel itself is buried in six to 10 feet of silt, growing mature trees and thick vegetation.
Salina Water Distribution and Wastewater Collection Director Martha Tasker stands on the plant's interior catwalk. —Photo By Denny Medley
“People remember when the river was an integral part of the aesthetic, recreational and economic life of Salina,” says Tasker, a participant of the Friends of the Smoky Hill River and the Community Actions for a Renewed Environment. “Our goal is to remove the sediment, get the water flowing again and maintain dredging to keep it flowing. Older people have fond memories of what they did along the river. It was a meeting place, and they want that part of our history restored.”
In 2010, the city approved the Smoky Hill River Master Plan. The river’s construction phase is scheduled for 2019. “River restorations require a sound engineering analysis of physical and legal water supply, drought period operations, channel design, regulatory requirements and public safety,” Tasker says. “However, the analysis should not inhibit visionary solutions.”
For example, one of Tasker’s ideas is to evaluate using wastewater effluent to reduce water shortages during droughts.