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State rescinds water rights moratorium for aquifer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP)--The Kansas Department of Agriculture's water resources division has lifted a six-year moratorium on new permits to draw water from the Ozark aquifer after a U.S. Geological Survey study showed three times more water available in the aquifer than what was authorized for use.

That's in contrast to aquifer use in southwest Missouri, where the same 2009 study warned that some areas could go dry if there's even slight growth over the next 50 years.

"Most of the water use in the study area that we looked at, which comprises the tri-state area of Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma, over 90 percent is in Missouri,'' said Walt Aucott, director of the Kansas Water Science Center in Lawrence, Kan., for the U.S. Geological Survey. "Kansas is down to less than 10 percent of the total water use, in the model.''

Southwest Missouri is more heavily populated and developed than southeast Kansas, Aucott said, so even a 1 percent increase in use in Missouri would take a toll on water supplies there. Southeast Kansas can greatly increase the amount of water it uses from the aquifer without having the same kind of impact because its use is comparatively low now.

Dave Barfield, chief engineer with the water resources division in Kansas, rescinded the moratorium this week. It was implemented in 2004 because of concerns that the aquifer's water supply was running out.

The moratorium mainly affected municipalities where the aquifer is a prime source of city water. There is much more industrial and agricultural use of the water on the Missouri side, in addition to municipal use, he said.

"It certainly is a relief to our users in southeast Kansas, particularly the city of Pittsburg,'' Barfield said. "Pittsburg and others were concerned about where their water supply would be. Now they know they can continue to grow from the Ozark aquifer, as opposed to going somewhere else for their water.''

Kansas law controls use of water in the state, while there are no such controls in Missouri, Barfield said.

"It's sort of a western state law versus an eastern state,'' he said. "In western states, water is more limited, and so the state has mechanisms to control the use through the doctrine of prior appropriations. In Kansas, you have to get a water right. Missouri is an eastern state. They don't control the use of water there. That's why there are bigger problems on the Missouri side than the Kansas side.''

The 2009 study was a product of the Kansas moratorium, Aucott said.

"One of the things driving the need of this study was the moratorium put on by the state of Kansas for new well permits,'' he said. "That created a lot of need to assess the resource closer than had been done before.''

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