Hook and Line

Anglers find a great spot on a Kansas plant’s effluent receiving reservoirs, part of a 148-acre wildlife habitat and public use development.
Hook and Line
an aerial view of plant;

The Cowskin Creek Water Quality Reclamation Facility was built to handle explosive growth in northwest Wichita, Kan., during the mid-1990s. Since then it has become a favored destination for sport fishermen, bird watchers and other outdoor enthusiasts.

“Some of the regular fishermen tell us not to tell anyone about our ponds because it’s a great place and they don’t want anyone else to know about it,” says Rebecca Lewis, plant superintendent. The ponds are 6- and 10-acre effluent receiving reservoirs for the activated sludge treatment plant (2 mgd design/1.0 mgd average). They are also the hub of a popular public use area on the 148-acre site.

Well stocked

More than two miles of 5-foot wide concrete walking trails follow the contour of the ponds and meander near wetlands that serve as an alternate effluent discharge reservoir. Normal evaporation maintains the ponds at acceptable levels, even during rainy periods. Signage, information kiosks and benches at rest areas are not installed yet, but are part of the long-range plan for the trail system. 

In collaboration with the City of Wichita, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) keeps the ponds stocked each year with largemouth bass, sunfish and channel catfish. Gentle slopes and easy access make the ponds a favorite fishing hole for anglers of all ages, says Lewis.

KDWP was recognized for its Community Fisheries Assistance Program, which works to improve fishing opportunities at community-owned lakes. In 2009, the department received the Outstanding Sport Fish Restoration Program Project of the Year award from the American Fisheries Society.

Great for kids

“Those ponds are one of my favorite places to recommend,” says KDWP fisheries biologist Jessica Mounts. “The shoreline access is kid-friendly all the way around both ponds.” The plant maintenance staff cares for the ponds and keeps the grass mowed around the public use area. Many citizens who use the site regularly also volunteer to keep the grounds neat. “It’s a great asset to the community, and they want to keep it that way,” says Lewis.

It wasn’t always a popular spot. During construction planning, citizens at town meetings objected to the additional flow from the plant into Cowskin Creek, the planned outfall point, which already had seen flooding during heavy rains.

No one wanted the plant built, Lewis says. So the ponds were created, along with 38 acres of constructed wetlands, which rarely receive effluent. Only in unusually high rainfalls does discharge flow reach Cowskin Creek. A water feature in front of the plant was built with large limestone blocks that aerate the effluent as it is discharged and cascades into the ponds. “We think it’s a showcase,” says Lewis.

Don Henry, assistant director of Public Works and Utilities, who manages the city’s stormwater, wastewater and water treatment facilities, observes, “The Cowskin Creek facility represents the outcome of true public engagement. It’s a state-of-the-art facility that provides exceptional quality wastewater treatment and a natural recreation area for everyone.”

Wildlife magnet

Plovers, herons, egrets and cranes and many other migratory birds populate the ponds and wetlands. Native species like whitetail deer, opossum, raccoon and wild turkey find suitable habitat year-round. And some species, like the threatened and endangered least tern and eastern spotted skunk find critical habitat on the grounds.

School groups and members of the general public take tours of the facility. Besides learning about the plant’s wastewater processes, attendees learn how the ponds and wetlands work and the delicate balance between form and function.

On one recent weekend, more than 300 motorcyclists visited the site as a prescribed stop on a ride. “It’s a good way to get the message out, and we talked to them a little bit about water quality,” says Lewis.

Henry states, “It is truly a win-win and something the entire community can be proud of.”


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