Most people (including me) wouldn't think dams would be much of an issue in the heart of Kansas. Yet, as Harvey County Planning & Zoning Director Scott Davies explained to me, a swath of the county north of Newton is within the Sand Creek watershed area. And that watershed has a series of Corps of Engineers built flood protection dams.
The dams were built in response to some major flooding in 1965 and earlier. In fact, as we drove through the county, Scott pointed to the longest dam in Kansas -- almost a mile in length.
They don't look like the vast concrete dams many of us are familiar with. They usually don't hold water -- except when there are heavy rains.
The Corps of Engineers has mapped out "breech impact areas" associated with each dam (the blue areas in the map). That represents the area that would be inundated in the event of a breech of the dam. The aim is to prevent development within these areas.
Scott told me that Harvey County will not permit any new structures within a breech impact area. They rejected an alternative proposal that would have allowed structures elevated one foot. As Scott explained this to me, the problem is that the State of Kansas can require the County Watershed District to strengthen a dam if it finds any new development within an impact area. This, in turn, can be a potentially costly expense.
There's been no litigation over when this kind of total ban on development would constitute a taking. Any lawyers out there have an opinion?
p.s., I also spent considerable time with Scott discussing agricultural preservation issues. He told me the County Commission is very strict when it comes to preserving farmland, and the basic zoning is one lot per 40 acres -- with some exceptions for "cluster splits" and allowances for poor soils and old homesites.