One of the new stamp offerings from the U.S. Post Office borders on the ironic. Part of the Earthscapes series, this particular Forever stamp pictures an overhead shot of Kansas crops watered by center-pivot irrigation -- a practice that can't possibly last forever, or at least not at current rates of usage.

Estimates have irrigators exceeding 90 percent of statewide water use. The practice of growing crops not naturally suited for the arid climate of western Kansas is taking its toll on the Ogallala Aquifer and other underground sources. Extended droughts certainly don't help, but current rates of depletion by irrigators eventually will alter life as we know it even on the surface.

The Kansas Water Office as well as the Legislature have taken token steps toward conservation, but nothing to decrease usage.

More than likely, officials in Topeka have the misguided notion of treating water rights too much as a private commodity rather than a public good. Appointed and elected leaders alike have displayed little appetite to ensure sustainable habitation for the long haul.

So we're more than excited to see irrigators in Sheridan and Thomas counties attempting to take matters in their own hands. Northwest Kansas Groundwater Management District No. 4 is seeking to establish a local enhanced management area that would limit irrigators there to 11 acre-inches of water a year. Such a limit would be approximately 20 percent less than currently is being pumped. Across the 99 sections of land in the proposed area, water use through the course of five years would be limited to approximately 114,000 acre-feet of water.

The proposal is without precedent in Kansas. While the creation of Local Enhancement Management Plans was made possible by a new state law earlier this year, there were no requirements to reduce water use.

That the irrigators themselves are attempting to moderate precipitous declines in the aquifer is to be applauded and encouraged. It would appear the only obstacle that could prevent implementation on Jan. 1 would be the state, which must sign off on the plan. We would hope the Kansas Division of Water Resources recognizes the soundness and necessity of the proposal.

Should the plan work, it could serve as a model for other districts throughout Kansas. Responsible irrigation is sustainable; unabated use of our limited natural resource is not.

If the state would like to see images of center-pivot irrigation somewhere other than on postage stamps, it would be prudent to approve GMD 4's proposal.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net