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2011 overpumping less than predicted




SCOTT CITY -- There's been a slow, but steady, conversion of drought term permits to the newly created multi-year flex accounts.

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SCOTT CITY -- There's been a slow, but steady, conversion of drought term permits to the newly created multi-year flex accounts.

But the nearly 400 MYFA permits issued so far this year still fall far short of the number of drought-term permits that were overpumped last year before legislators agreed to forgive the overuse.

Out out of the nearly 2,250 permits issued, new figures released by the Kansas Department of Agriculture -- the parent organization of the Division of Water Resources -- show approximately 1,790 permits exceeded the amount allowed.

Total overpumping amounted to slightly more than 86,000 acre-feet of water, nearly 28 billion gallons. An acre-foot of water contains approximately 326,000 gallons.

That's enough to supply water to the city of Hays for the next 37 years.

It's also nearly 20 percent of the total amount authorized to be pumped in 2011 for water rights covered by the drought-term permits, which would have let irrigators use more water one year but force them to scale back pumping the following year.

Stevens County had the highest overuse based on individual permits. There, permit holders overpumped an average of 89.13 acre-feet. That's nearly 30 million gallons for each permit.

It also had the greatest overall overpumping, using nearly 9,600 acre-feet more than would have been allowed if the drought-term permits hadn't been issued.

Stevens County is the home county for Senate Majority Leader Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, whose amendment in the Senate Agriculture Committee provided forgiveness for irrigators who overpumped in 2011. He was defeated in the primary by conservative legislator Rep. Larry Powell, R-Garden City, who, as chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, agreed to keep the amendment intact.

No northwest Kansas county was included in the numbers released Wednesday by the agriculture department, and the release didn't include counties with fewer than 25 drought-term permits or permits that didn't exceed allocated amounts.

For the most part, northwest Kansas irrigators shunned the program, mainly because rain was near normal in areas where there was irrigation.

But the rush to enroll in the multi-year flex program has been slow.

Of the approximate 400 MYFA permits issued so far this year, nearly three-fourths of them were converted from drought-term permits.

There are two deadlines for the MYFA permits, the first July 15. A second and final deadline is Oct. 1.

Because the drought has continued, actually expanding its presence and severity, the number of irrigators enrolling in MYFA is expected to increase by the final deadline.

There's already been a number of irrigators who have reported overuse this year, and most of them are expected to be rolled over into the MYFA accounts, which allows farmers to spread water use through a five-year period.

In that five-year period, irrigators will be able use more water in one year, so long as the total use at the end of the term doesn't exceed the total amount allocated.