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Drought pushes water use beyond permits

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

As the drought has intensified, there's been a crush of water-use violations in some parts of Kansas, members of the Ogallala Aquifer Advisory Committee learned Tuesday.

The issue was of significant interest to committee members, who in July suggested the Division of Water Resources boost the penalty for a second violation, typically one of overuse.

Initially, however, the committee's meeting -- conducted via conference call -- was sought to look at proposals expected to be offered up when the Legislature returns next week.

The committee agreed to support three of the proposals suggested, those affecting water use.

Those proposals include a tweak of last year's legislation allowing irrigators to carry over a year's worth of unused water from one multi-year flex program account to another.

The idea there is to encourage participation in the program as a way to save water.

The MYFA legislation was an outgrowth of a two-year term permit program that was designed to help irrigators cope with the deepening drought.

A second initiative would carve out a new permit system for water used in horizontal drilling, one that essentially would deduct its use from an existing permit rather than increase the amount of water being allocated

That's especially critical in areas of high use or declining water tables, said Lane Letourneau, water appropriation manager for DWR.

Water use for drilling only accounts for approximately 2 percent of total use, he said, and water requirements for horizontal wells have been less than anticipated.

A more-traditional vertical-drilled well, Letourneau said, requires approximately 750,000 gallons of water. A horizontal well uses approximately 2.5 million gallons.

Previously, it had been suggested the amount would be nearly 4 million gallons for each horizontal well.

Committee members also threw support behind a proposal to cancel a sunset clause that would set some fees back to 2002 levels, representing a loss of approximately $750,000 to DWR and the Agriculture Department.

It was talk of water use violations that captured the attention of committee members when Letourneau said as many as 750 violations had been found last year.

But that's only in the 23-county region served by the agency's field office in Stafford. That's sharply higher than normal, he said.

The count hasn't been completed in areas served by Garden City and Stockton field offices, but it isn't expected to be as high.

The violations vary widely, from relatively minor overuse to much more serious ones involving tampering with a meter.

All of those violations just now are being reviewed and will work through the process of deciding what, if any, penalties will be assessed.

A first offense typically means a simple notice.

A second offense means a $1,000 fine and a reduction the following year equal to twice the amount over pumped.

That's the recommendation that was made by the Ogallala committee as part of its goal of reducing water use.

It's a third offense that really hits home though, as fines of up to $10,000 are possible and a one-year suspension of water rights.

A fourth violation could lead to revocation of a water right.

There's another provision that might sting as well.

After hearings are completed, the names of violators will be published, along with the amount of the extra water used.