LAWRENCE — The Kansas Chapter of the American Planning Association recently honored eight University of Kansas Department of Urban Planning students with its New Horizon award. The students were enrolled in Associate Professor Bonnie Johnson’s Growth Management class last spring.
The award recognizes a student or group of students who push the boundaries of planning in creative and innovative ways. This year it was awarded for “Clearing the Waters: Actions for Hillsdale Lake Watershed,” which included best management practices to deal with its water quality issues. The students were working for the Hillsdale Lake Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategies Stakeholder Leadership Team and other watershed community members.
The lake’s watershed is located in Johnson and northeastern Miami counties, and it includes the growing communities of Gardner, Spring Hill, Edgerton and Wellsville. A large Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) intermodal facility also recently began operations in the area.
The students began by touring the watershed and lake with Robert Wilson, a watershed planner with K-State Research and Extension. He explained that the lake’s health is threatened by runoff that contains chemicals used for fertilizing lawns, farming and wastewater treatment.
“In our tour of the watershed we visited each of the towns and the lake looking at development old and new. One of the things we hope our students take away from the planning program is the importance of getting to know a place and observation," Johnson said. "Getting out in the field and visiting with local experts like Robert, Johnson County planners, and the manager of the BNSF facility were all invaluable to understanding what was going on with the watershed.”
Wilson explained that the phosphorous causes excess plant growth, which deprives the water of oxygen needed by aquatic life. Sediment carried in by the runoff also harms plant and animal habitats, and it will eventually fill in the lake.
After followup visits to the new intermodal facility and the Johnson County Planning office, the students did an analysis of the regulations of the communities using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Quality Scorecard.
The result was an educational booklet containing eight sets of recommended strategies written in easy-to-understand language that avoided technical jargon. The students emphasized creative ideas that are also doable, such as no longer requiring traditional curb-and-gutter streets in new subdivisions to lessen runoff.
Instead of giving a presentation to the WRAPS leadership team alone, the students hosted an open house in the Gardner branch of the Johnson County Public Library, where the committee and the public could learn about their suggested strategies through the booklets and poster presentations.
“Having the opportunity to address a problem in our community with our research has been a valuable learning experience,” said student Abbey Ockinga.
The award winners include Matthew Buchanan, Lincoln, Nebraska; Yirun Fang, Shuangqiao, China; Jamie Ferris, Kansas City, Missouri.; Michael Knight, St. Louis; Jacque Lumsden, Andover; Toby Moody, Basehor, and Abbey Ockinga and Pearl Suphakarn, Lawrence.