Governor calls for 50-year vision for Kansas water
By Doug Rich
At The Future of Water in Kansas Conference, Oct. 24 and 25 in Manhattan, Kan., Gov. Sam Brownback asked five state agencies to begin work immediately on a 50-year vision for Kansas water that meets the state’s needs now and in the future.
“We have been reminded of the importance of water with another year of extreme drought for our state, which is now beginning to ease in eastern Kansas but continues to persist in the west,” Brownback said.
Brownback instructed these groups to have the 50-year vision ready for delivery to the governor’s office no later than Nov. 1, 2014.
“Water is critical to us here in Kansas,” Brownback said. “It is critical to our future, it is critical to our agriculture, and it is critical to all industries across the state of Kansas.”
Brownback said the two big challenges facing water resources in Kansas are the Ogallala Aquifer and the reservoirs in the state. According to a recent Kansas State University study, 30 percent of the Ogallala has been used since it was first tapped. Many areas of the state are already below minimum thresholds to maintain a 400-gallon-per-minute well.
“This aquifer has been very good to us,” Brownback said. “It really made this state bloom and it is important that we maintain it for future generations so that we continue to bloom.”
There are 20 federal reservoirs in Kansas and much of the state is dependent on these reservoirs for their water supply. Nearly 20 percent of the storage capacity in these reservoirs has already been lost to sedimentation. If nothing is done, another 20 percent will be lost in the next 50 years.
Brownback pointed out that is not an equal 20 percent across the state. Some reservoirs have lost 50 percent of their storage capacity to sedimentation.
“We have to plan how to survive severe droughts in every area of Kansas,” Brownback said. “We hope we never have another severe drought but hoping is not planning.”
Brownback said if Kansans does nothing, the Ogallala will be 70 percent depleted over the next 50 years, another 40 percent of the area irrigated with water from the Ogallala won’t support a 400-gallon per minute well, federal reservoirs will be 40 percent filled with sediment, and five of the seven basins in which federal reservoirs support municipal and industrial water use won’t be able to meet demands brought on by drought.
In addition to the five agencies Brownback mentioned in his call to action, the governor is asking his Council of Economic Advisors to engage in the planning process because water and the economy are closely linked.
Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Dale Rodman urged those attending the conference to consider all options in developing the vision, including new technologies, different agricultural practices, and policy changes. Rodman said three things are required to create change, dissatisfaction with the status quo, there has to be a vision for the future, and finally there has to be the belief that there is a tool for achieving that vision.
Rodman said there are approximately 2,700 different organizations in the state that deal with water issues. Most of the time they are working against each other rather than cooperating.
“I personally don’t think it is too late to save the aquifer,” Rodman said. “But it is time we all figure out where we want to go. We have to develop a plan and take action.”
Four state legislators participated in a panel discussion on water issues following Brownback’s charge to develop a 50- ear vision for water in Kansas. Taking part in the panel were state Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-District 31, and Larry Powell, R-District 117, and state Reps. Kyle Hoffman, R-District 116, and Sharon Schwartz, R-District 106. They all expressed support for the vision, but when asked about their biggest water resource priorities they were not in total agreement.
McGinn said here top priority is water conservation.
“Conservation, I think, whether you are a municipality, industry, or agriculture is something we can make huge improvement in,” McGinn said. “One of the things I am interested in are alternative crops.”
Hoffman said the different entities, urban, rural and industrial will have to put aside their differences to develop a comprehensive statewide vision for water in Kansas. For example, Hoffman said it was not a good idea for irrigators to get into a fight over how much water the oil industry is using. During the conference it was pointed out that agriculture is far and away the biggest user of water in the state.
“We need all of these sectors and all of these sectors need water,” Hoffman said.
Schwartz agreed with McGinn that conservation is the No. 1 priority. Powell said the Ogallala Aquifer is the biggest priority in the state. Powell said a 50-year plan that is reviewed every year is a good idea.
“We are at a pivotal moment in our state,” Brownback said. “We can talk these issues to death, but without vision we won’t be able to address these priorities. Ensuring each citizen has a reliable water supply includes addressing both the groundwater decline in the Ogallala Aquifer as well as securing, protecting and restoring our reservoir storage.”
Doug Rich can be reached by phone at 785-749-5304 or by email at email@example.com.