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Pictured (from left to right) are Tracy Streeter, director of the Kansas Water Office; David Pope, the Legacy Award winner; and Lt. Gov. Tracey Mann. (Photo by Brooke Haas.)

During the 7th annual Governor’s Conference on the future of Water in Kansas, hundreds of farmers, livestock producers, ranchers, concerned citizens and politicians gathered together to achieve one goal—to save the future of Kansas’s water. 

The two-day event, held on Nov. 13 to 14, in Manhattan, Kansas, at the Hilton Garden Inn Conference Center, touched on a variety of topics. 

Several highlights of the conference were reservoir management to meet growing demands; market forces that influence conservation and management practices; infrastructure for the future; water technology farms and Ogallala Aquifer impacts.

To kick off the conference Earl Lewis, assistant director of the Kansas Water Office, spoke to conference attendees on just how important the Ogallala Aquifer is not only to Kansas, but also surrounding states.

“At the end of the day, we need to use less water,” Lewis noted. “We’ve been going across the state talking with different folks on what we should be focusing on and how we should achieve our collective goals.”

To reach citizens, Lewis and the water office are currently working on their new marketing campaign called “Kansas runs on water.” The campaign will be showcased on social media and will have a web-based platform. 

During his presentation, Lewis stated that if the state of Kansas wasn’t doing things right, 70 percent of the Ogallala would be depleted and 40 percent of the endangered areas of the aquifer would go dry in a time frame that would shorter than most people might think. 

“2017 was a wet year so that reflected a change in our aquifers and it also reflected a change in the culture of conservation,” he said. 

Farmers also contributed to that change thanks to a water technology farm initiative that started three years ago. There are now 10 farms in operation.

“Farmers using water technology was a big key to that difference. We had to make sure farmers were maintaining the bottom line and reducing their water use. Now that farmers are using water technology on their farms, we’re seeing that happen,” Lewis added. “Changing the culture to more conservation while keeping farms financially viable will be key to our long-term success.”

David Pope, chief engineer for Kansas’ Division of Water Resources and winner of the 2018 Legacy Award, is also key to long-term success.

“Three years ago, we started giving out the water Legacy Award. The idea behind the award is to recognize somebody that went above and beyond the call-of-duty every day of their lives to make a difference on water—it’s not an award to be handed out lightly,” said Tracy Streeter, director of the Kansas Water Office. 

Streeter described Pope as a dedicated citizen, a leader and a go-getter. 

 “The most important thing that Mr. Pope brought to his role, indeed to any endeavor in which he participated, was integrity. Every decision he made as chief engineer was driven by a desire to protect both our water resources and the ability of the people of Kansas to use them beneficially. For his relentless efforts to improve the effective long-term management of water in Kansas, this is the most important of resources,” Streeter said. 

Pope started his career as an Extension Irrigation Engineer in Garden City. Pope assisted local leaders in the development of Southwest Kansas Groundwater Management District No. 3 and was the district’s first manager from 1976 to 1978. Soon after, Pope worked his way up into the position of assistant chief engineer at the Division of Water Resources in Topeka in 1978. In 1983 he became chief engineer of Division of Water Resource where he resides today. 

“Wow, thank you all so much for this award. It’s something I appreciate very much and this is an honor that I am thrilled to receive. I want to thank my colleagues that I’ve worked with over the years and most importantly, my family,” Pope said. “They stuck with me through all those times of traveling, being gone all the time and working 60 to 70 hours a week.”

During the conference Pope, along with many others, were recognized for their dedication to water efforts in Kansas. However, there was one person that earned center stage. 

Streeter was showered with kind words and affirmation for his 33 years of service to the Kansas Water office and was given a proclamation of retirement by Lt. Gov. Tracey Mann. 

“Tracy (Streeter) is truly the epitome of what public service is all about. The man comes to work every day never thinking about himself. He comes to work thinking about you, he comes to work thinking about every other Kansan in our state and thinking about our natural resources and what we need to do to take care of them,” said Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Jackie McClaskey. “We all know Tracy has some life left ahead of him but his life in public service is coming to an end; and I can’t think of anyone who has been more useful, more purposeful, more compassionate and more dedicated than Tracy. He has truly been committed to the state of Kansas and I am confident that we all know how much we are about to lose, but more importantly we are thankful for the 33 years he has put in the state.”

“Obviously the Legacy award winners and the Be the Vision recipients should have gotten the center stage today, but I am honored to be recognized,” Streeter added. 

Streeter will officially retire on Dec. 14. 

Brooke Haas can be reached at journal@hpj.com.

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