Experts weigh in on how creating new Miami County town could affect Hillsdale Lake

Kansas News

PAOLA, Kan. — In an effort to prevent warehouse development from crossing the Johnson County/Miami County border, homeowners in rural Miami County have petitioned to form a new city. 

In June, the county commission heard public feedback on the potential incorporation of the City of Golden. Now the commission is hosting a series of study sessions to get expert testimony about how creating a new city could affect the county overall. 

On Wednesday, the Miami County Board of Commissioners heard from water quality experts from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) about how incorporation could affect water quality within the Hillsdale Lake Watershed. 

“Incorporation, if you leave the land use as is, I don’t think it will have any impact,” said Tom Stiles, KDHE water bureau director. “The question is if they incorporate this new city, are they going to have to add more infrastructure? Are they going to have to add more impervious area? If they do, then that is going to start increwing some type of impact to Hillsdale.” 

KDHE monitors the volume of pollutants that enter waterways throughout the state and takes action to prevent water contamination leading to unsafe conditions. Stiles said the state department doesn’t regulate warehouse development, how a property is zoned or what a property can be used for. That power lies with the county and other local municipalities. 

Stiles said private homes, businesses and warehouses all contribute to water runoff that can lead to pollutants entering waterways.

In the last two decades, Miami County and southern Johnson County have seen an overall increase in urban development and crop farming and a decrease in pasture.

Stiles said overall density, regardless of the type of development, has a large impact on the water quality, but it’s unclear how warehouse development has played a factor in water degradation. 

“Anything that comes in proximity to one of our reservoirs that has too much density is going to cause a water quality impact. It could be people. It could be some industry. It could be geese,” Stiles said. 

Nathan Westrup, chief of hydrology and evaluation for the Kansas Water Office, said next year the state will update the hydraulic study that will include data on the overall growth in the watershed and an overall look at the impact of the intermodal.

“I believe the current population served from Hillsdale is in the neighborhood of 45,000 people,” Westrup said. “Back when we entered into this water purchase contract, it was projected that this is a growth area. The growth and the number of people it supplies, probably more than 100,000 through 2052.” 

State water officials said more research needs to be done, but it’s clear that the area surrounding the Hillsdale watershed will experience more new development in the future. 

Stiles said prior to Wednesday’s meeting, KDHE did not intend to perform any additional studies evaluating the impacts of new growth in the area and its impact on Hillsdale watershed.

Now, Stiles said it will be a priority, but the state will first need to secure funding.

The Miami County Board of Commissioners will continue hearing expert testimony for the potential incorporation of the City of Golden on Wednesday, Sept. 1 at 9 a.m. 

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