Kansas Common Sense
Oct 03 2011
Welcome to “Kansas Common Sense.” Thank you for your continued interest in receiving my weekly newsletter. On Monday, the Senate passed legislation to keep the government operational until November 18, and the House is expected to consider this legislation tomorrow. After passage of the continuing resolution, Senators returned to their states in observance of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I spent time back in Kansas visiting with folks in Greenburg, Hutchison, Wichita, Maize and Haven. I also hosted my 11th Annual Partners in Conservation Tour in Central and Southeast Kansas this week, visiting Harvey, Sedgwick, Butler and Greenwood Counties. You can read more about my conversation tour below. Please feel free to forward this newsletter on to your family and friends if it would interest them.
Visiting with School Superintendents about Education in Kansas
I traveled to Hutchinson on Wednesday to speak at the Educational Services and Staff Development Association of Central Kansas (ESSDACK) Superintendents Council Meeting. ESSDACK is an educational service center that provides staff development activities for Kansas educators. Each month, about 50 school superintendents from throughout Central Kansas meet in person and by video teleconference to discuss educational issues and share best practices. I appreciated the opportunity to visit with this large group of public school leaders about a wide range of education policy issues, including the outlook for reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB); President Obama’s recent announcement that the Department of Education will waive certain NCLB requirements for states in exchange for the states adopting certain policy changes; and Kansas educators’ concerns with the burdensome mandates and unrealistic standards of current federal law.
Congress needs to pass legislation completely rewriting NCLB, passage of which I opposed in 2002 because I believe the law created a “one-size-fits-all” federally-mandated approach to education that is not the best approach for Kansas students, parents, teachers and administrators. The federal government should afford Kansas schools sufficient flexibility to tailor education plans to the unique needs of Kansas students. Thank you to Dr. Mike Cook, executive director of ESSDACK and national president of the Association of Educational Service Agencies, for inviting me to this meeting and to ESSDACK staff for coordinating my visit.
Meeting with Community and Business Leaders in Hutchison
After meeting with superintendents, I met with a group of business and community leaders in Hutchinson to get an update on the community’s activities and to discuss the economy. Many of these leaders voiced their concern over the ongoing uncertainty in the economy due to the unpredictable tax and regulatory climate created by Washington. In spite of the difficult economic conditions, Hutchinson continues to be a community focused on growth and providing opportunities for Kansans to earn a living so they can remain in the community they call home.
Thanks to all the business and community leaders for participating in the helpful discussion.
Touring Wesley Rehabilitation Hospital
Later in the day on Wednesday, I stopped by Wesley Rehabilitation Hospital (WRH) in Wichita to learn about the latest rehabilitation technology and care the facility provides to patients throughout Kansas and Oklahoma. WRH is a 65-bed rehabilitation hospital with more than 200 employees, and provides highly intensive medical and rehabilitation services to patients. Many of these patients have suffered spinal cord injuries, strokes, hip fractures, or undergone knee and hip replacements. Last year, WRH was awarded a gold seal of approval for its Certified Stroke Rehabilitation Program and is a HealthSouth Stroke Rehabilitation Center of Excellence. WRH also provides home health services to patients through Wesley Home Health.
I appreciated the opportunity to tour the 91,700 square-foot hospital and to visit with WRH’s executive team and staff about a range of health policy issues, including the relationship between Medicare reimbursement rates and access to quality, therapy services. Thanks to WRH CEO Pam Stanberry for the invitation and thanks to the following individuals for joining me on the tour: CFO Bob Peck; Medical Director Dr. Kevin Brown; Chief Nursing Officer Joann Paul; Director of Risk and Quality Janice Fenske; Directory of Therapy Operations Marilyn Burnell; Associate Medical Director Dr. Blake Venus and other WRH staff. Click here to view a photo from my visit.
Visiting with Maize High School Faculty and Students
Schools help build strong foundations within communities across our state. On Wednesday, I toured Maize High School, part of USD 266 Maize Unified School District – just northwest of Wichita. I appreciated the opportunity to get a firsthand glimpse of the innovative programming taking place at Maize. During my visit, I stopped by the industrial arts lab to learn more about the skills students are gaining in the wood and metal shops. Many students will use their skills in a future career. I also stopped by the distance learning lab, where students learn how to speak Mandarin – the official language of the Republic of China. Students are taught by a native speaker with the help of video technology that allows them to interact with the professor through the internet. I was impressed by this innovative way to help students learn a difficult language.
Our K-12 education system across the country faces many challenges, but MHS has been proactive in addressing challenges to help each student reach his or her full potential. In recognition of this success, Maize High School recently received Building Wide Standards of Excellence for students in Math, Reading, and Science. Congratulations to the teachers and students on this outstanding achievement. Thanks to USD 266 Superintendent Doug Powers for his hospitality and for the invitation to visit. Click here to view a photo from my visit.
Eleventh Annual Partners in Conservation Tour Looks at Water Issues in Kansas
On Thursday and Friday, I held my eleventh annual Partners in Conservation Tour to see and hear firsthand about a variety of conservation practices important to water quality and quantity in Kansas. Below is a summary of our stops and what we had the chance to learn about. Click here to see an album of photos from the tour.
Equus Beds and Groundwater Management District
The tour began on Thursday at the Equus Beds and Groundwater Management District office in Halstead where we learned about the importance of the Equus Beds aquifer. This aquifer is the principal source of fresh and usable water in south central Kansas. The District seeks to limit the amount of groundwater withdrawn to the amount that can be recharged each year and it also protects the water quality of the aquifer.
One way farmers are part of the solution is through a partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to install more efficient irrigation units. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) enabled Lynn Holdeman to install a drip irrigation system on his farm. Another NRCS program, the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program, helped Steven Smith with Triple Smith Farms improve his center pivot irrigation equipment to achieve 90 percent irrigation efficiency on his 112 acre field. These farmers have been able to dramatically reduce the amount of water required to achieve similar crop yields. Thanks to Steven Smith and Lynn Holdeman for showing us their operations. Also, thank you to Tim Boese, manager of the Equus Beds and Groundwater Management District, for teaching us about the Equus Beds.
City of Wichita Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) Program
The second stop on the tour was in Sedgwick County at the city of Wichita’s Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) program, designed to take flood water from the Little Arkansas River, clean it to drinking-water levels, and return it to the depleted Equus Beds aquifer.
With one in five Kansans relying on the Equus Beds aquifer as their primary water source, the success of this joint local, state and federal initiative matters. Over the last 50 plus years, the Equus Beds Aquifer has dropped more than 40 feet in some areas. More than 5000 farms and municipal customers in Wichita, McPherson, Halstead, Newton, Hutchinson, Valley Center and Bentley have a stake in the success of this effort. Thanks to Deborah Ary, superintendent of production pumping for the city of Wichita; Rich Robinson, well field maintenance supervisor with Equus Beds; Stan Breitenbach, special projects engineer for the city of Wichita; Dale Goter, director of government affairs for the city of Wichita; and Denise Bruce, ASR communications specialist, for their time and expertise.
Wichita Area Treatment Education and Remediation Center (WATER) Center
We made another visit in Sedgwick County to the Wichita Area Treatment Education and Remediation Center (WATER) where our focus was on water quality. A little more than 20 years ago, severe groundwater contamination was discovered under downtown Wichita as a result of decades of industrial and commercial activities. Threatened with the possibility of being declared an EPA Superfund site, city leaders established the Wichita WATER Center in an effort to clean up the 3850 acre site.
I enjoyed touring the center and learning about how the 5.5 miles of piping, 10 extraction wells, and an air stripper treatment system treat 1.2 million gallons of water daily, limiting the spread of polluted groundwater and removing its contamination. Through a museum, conference center, aquarium and remediation of adjacent Herman Hill Park, the WATER center provides a variety of educational opportunities to the citizens of Wichita. I appreciate Wichita City Councilwoman Janet Miller’s kind welcome. Thanks to Libby Albers, environmental projects director for the WATER center; Don Henry, environmental health manager for the city of Wichita; and Shawn Maloney, environmental remediation director for the city of Wichita, for an informative and enjoyable tour.
Jackman Forest Research and Demonstration Area
Watersheds play an important role in preserving our state’s water supply and protecting property from flood damage. Our final conservation tour stop on Thursday was the Jackman Forest Research and Demonstration Area in Walnut Hickory Watershed District No. 18 where land management practices focus on reduced soil erosion, enhanced wildlife habitat, improved forest health and enhanced water quality. I appreciated the insight provided by Herb Graves, president of the State Association of Kansas Watersheds, on the status of our state’s watershed projects. Thanks to Wayne Chambers, president of Walnut Hickory Watershed District No. 18, for his leadership. Thank you also to Justin Kneisel, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) district conservationist; and Dennis Carlson, Kansas Forest district forester, for an informative tour.
Livestock Alternative Watering Supply
The second day began at the Diamond R Ranch near Fall River. As owners of Diamond R Ranch, Darrell and Dee Rolph, along with ranch managers, Harold and Travis Stapleford, place high importance on providing quality drinking water to their cow-calf and stocker herd.
They have fenced in nine ponds and thanks to the utilization of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and EQIP, filter strips and field borders have been installed around cropland and sericea lespedeza has been brought under control. The result: the Rolphs estimate the sickness rate of their livestock herd has decreased by one-third. Thanks to Luke Westerman, NRCS district conservationist, for leading an informative discussion and to the Rolphs for sharing their forward-thinking livestock operation.
Saltwater Scar Remediation
We continued the tour in Greenwood County where Norman and Diane Grundy own and operate a cow-calf operation west of Climax. Nearly 80 years ago, their family farm suffered a large saltwater spill that resulted in approximately 5 acres of barren land unable to grow any type of vegetation. Thanks to a partnership with the Fall River Watershed Restoration and Protections Strategy (WRAPS), Greenwood County Conservation District, NRCS and the Kansas Alliance for Wetlands and Streams (KAWS), a bad situation is being made better through remediation of the saltwater scar. As a result of this effort, a wetland dike now traps sediment which in turn reduces soil erosion. The accumulation of the sediment and nutrients results in wetland plants providing needed organic matter for the treatment of the saltwater scar. Thanks to Harold Klaege, executive director of KAWS, for leading an informative discussion and to the Grundys for hosting our visit.
Stream Bank Restoration
Art and Heidi Teichgraeber own and operate a beautiful ranch that plays an important role in Greenwood County’s cattle industries. Nearly 50 years ago an iconic ranch house was built next to the Fall River. In recent years the house has been threatened by an eroding riverbank. As a result the Teichgraebers partnered with Fall River WRAPS to restore the eroded riverbank. The Teichgraebers have also utilized conservations program – including CRP and EQIP – to improve the water quality, wildlife habitat and rangeland health of their ranch. Thanks to the Teichgraebers for their hospitality and for working to make certain their historic ranch is around for the next generation of Kansans.
El Dorado Waste Water Treatment Facility
In 2007, the city of El Dorado was the first community in Kansas to develop a wetland as a way of helping treat wastewater. Without the wetland, the city would have needed to build a large wastewater treatment facility. Instead, they now use the wetland and a smaller treatment facility, resulting in a savings of $4 million for the city. Thanks to Kurt Bookout, public utilities director, for an informative discussion and tour of the wetlands and water treatment facility. Because of his leadership, El Dorado provides clean water to its citizens in a unique cost-effective manner. Thanks also to Harold Klaege with KAWS and Jordan Martincich with Pheasants Forever. Their organizations stepped forward to support this effort via financial and in-kind contributions, respectively.
El Dorado State Lake and Cole Creek
The conservation tour ended at El Dorado State Lake and Cole Creek on Friday afternoon. As a result of a 2008 EPA/USACE requirement to replenish aquatic resource losses, Wichita’s Newman University, Burns and McDonnell engineers, and J and S Leasing are proposing a 177 acre Whitewater River wetland and stream mitigation bank at El Dorado State Lake. The bank would mitigate pollution of streams, creeks rivers, open waters and adjacent wetlands.
Upon completion, the bank would offer the following: diverse wildlife habitat, stream and wetland credits for KDOT transportation and private development projects, wetlands development and increased water quality through planting of native plant species buffers. A completed bank would also allow J and S and Newman University to establish educational opportunities to study re-establishment of a river system.
Thanks to Randy Root with Burns and McDonnell for explaining this cooperative effort and Noreen Carrocci, president of Newman University, for attending and working to provide additional educational opportunities to her students.
I appreciate Eugene Goff with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for leading our discussion about challenges – particularly zebra mussels, blue green algae and siltation – facing our federal reservoirs. To conclude the tour, Sandy Koontz with the Butler County Conservation District explained at Cole Creek how the Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy (WRAPS) program is mitigating sediment and pollution issues at El Dorado Lake, the largest water supplier in Butler County. WRAPS officials and area farmers and ranchers continually work to ensure that a clean, abundant water supply is available – today and for many years to come.
Community Visit to Greensburg
During my travels across the state this week, I stopped by Greensburg to walk Main Street and visit with residents. Four years after an EF 5 tornado destroyed 95 percent of its buildings, Greensburg continues to be an example of the great things communities can accomplish when residents work together. During my stop at Greensburg State Bank, I spoke with Tom and Dea Corns, Chris Ballard, Jackie Carlton, Carolyn Morton and Mary Racette. We also took a quick photo after the visit - click here to see it. At the Kiowa County Media Center, my visit turned into an impromptu interview using their state-of-the-art technology. Click here to watch my conversation with Jan West. It was good to visit with former Kiowa County Commissioner Gene West and his wife Jan. Thank you to Grant Neuhold, the Programming and Technical Producer at the Media Center, for filming the interview. While in town I also visited the Courthouse, City Hall, City Library, Kwik Shop, Dillons, Kook’s Meats and ADM Grain. I also stopped by KSU Research and Extension and USD 422, along with its high school and elementary school.
Listening Tour Continues
This week I continued my Statewide Listening Tour with a town hall meeting in Reno County on Wednesday afternoon at the Senior Center in Haven. The topic brought up by nearly everyone this week was jobs. Kansans are concerned about the lack of jobs and want to know what the federal government is doing to encourage job creation. I share this concern and gave a speech on the Senate floor about what I think will encourage job growth. Click here to view a video of my comments. Thanks to Harland Priddle, Wanda Pritchett and City Clerk Leslie Warden for helping organize the meeting and letting folks know about the town hall. Thanks also to County Commissioner James Schlickau for joining us. If you would like to view a photo from this stop, please click here.
In the Office
This week we had several visitors in the Washington, D.C. office from across the state, including the Kansans listed below.
American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network
Ryan Summerford of Kansas City
Christopher Masoner of Topeka
Cherri Dorsett of Wichita
Conley Cornell of Coffeyville
Judith Calhoun of Emporia
Sue Jirkovsky-Landers of Topeka
Barbara Miksch of Prairie Village
Johnson County Community College
Deb Elder of Overland Park
Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services
Gary Haulmark of Topeka
Many Kansans stopped by this week for a tour of the United States Capitol including: Cody Goforth and Joshua Michaelis of Lyons; Rebecca Ford and Pattie McGurk of Great Bend; Donna and Sarah Lamm of Colby; Mark, Julie, & Madeline LeNeave of Topeka; and Rick Freebern & Mia Musson of Overland Park. Kent, Ardith, and Josh Dunn of Satanta also stopped by to say hello.
It is an honor to serve you in Washington, D.C. Please let me know how I can be of assistance. To send me an email, click here. You can also click here to contact me through one of my Kansas offices or my Washington, D.C., office.
Very truly yours,
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