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Brownback continues Kansas drought tour

Published on -7/19/2012, 7:14 AM

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Gov. Sam Brownback said Wednesday that changes in water management are helping Kansas farmers and communities navigate the intensifying drought.

The governor told The Associated Press before leaving for the second leg of his drought tour that he was encouraged by efforts by city officials and irrigators along the Smoky Hill River basin in central Kansas to manage water resources to meet competing needs.

In 2006, the city forced Kansas to shut down junior water rights holders' usage, hurting a lot of farmers in the basin, Brownback said.

"But it also got everyone's attention," he said.

Irrigators worked to guarantee a specific river flow level that would provide water both for agriculture and the city without shutting off the tap during a drought.

Brownback said other changes the 2012 Legislature made to state water laws will provide more ways for other regions of the state to manage water and prolong the life of the Ogallala Aquifer. One removed the 1945 policy that required water rights holders to use their allotment each year or lose the right to the water. Another change granted additional flexibility for use of water in dry years.

"That's what we're trying to accomplish," he said. "I saw an example of that which is working very nice."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared 82 Kansas counties federal drought disaster areas. Brownback is visiting Allen and Neosho counties in southeastern Kansas on Wednesday to see the damage caused by lack of rain and temperatures above 100 degrees.

The National Weather Service said temperatures will remain above the 100-degree mark for the next several days, and a heat advisory was issued for much of northeastern Kansas through Saturday.

Forecasters said there was a slight chance of thunderstorms north of Interstate 70 on Wednesday and south of the Kansas Turnpike on Thursday.

"I was impressed with how well the crop was holding up to date in central Kansas. We've had a lot of 100-degree days with south winds and not a lot of rain," Brownback said, adding that he expected to see crops that are worse off when he travels to northwestern Kansas next week.

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