Local water rights owners in northern Finney and Kearny counties are seeking ways to reduce the rate of decline in the Ogallala Aquifer. Some areas of this region have seen water-table declines of more than 70 feet in the past 10 years.
Reducing water use through a LEMA is one tool for extending the usable lifetime of the aquifer. Data based on past water use and its impact on the aquifer shows that a 15 percent reduction in use will significantly extend the life of the aquifer in this area.
If adopted, this LEMA will restrict all appropriated water rights within its boundaries. Vested water rights will not be administered, said Lane Letourneau, with the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s Division of Water Resources.
Letourneau said the Kearny Finney LEMA steering committee considered seven or eight options that water users provided. They narrowed the list to three options to meet the cutbacks and are still considering others. A new option was put on the table in late August.
Options being considered include:
Option A: A flat 15 percent off historical water use, from 2006 to 2015.
Option B: A sliding-scale reduction that compares historical water use to the authorized quantity and then applies a conservation factor accordingly. For example, a water right is authorized for 100 acre-feet but the average historical usage is only 50 acre-feet, then the conservation factor would be 50 percent of the roughly 15 percent.
Option C: It would take into account water use from 2006 through 2015. Reduction would be based on maximum recent reported use and the pumping capacity of a well.
Option D: This concept was suggested in late August by an irrigator to help conserve but also make cutbacks fairer to all farmers. The proposal would limit farmers to roughly 11.5 inches an acre - or about 15 inches on an irrigation circle, no matter the size of well.
Dwane Roth, the Finney County farmer who is helping lead the effort, said the goal is for farmers to come up with a plan before state officials do. That's a better option than an Intensive Groundwater Use Control Area, said Roth. An IGUCA is a mandatory measure implemented by the DWR chief engineer instead of a plan developed by stakeholders. IGUCAs involve mandatory cutbacks.
He sees cutbacks working and still allowing farmers to grow corn. He noted the net irrigation requirement for corn in Finney County is 14.5 inches an acre. Grain sorghum is 12 inches an acre.
“Some guys right in our neighborhood are still putting 24 inches on a circle of corn,” Roth said. “Legally they can do that, but just because they were doing it five years ago doesn’t mean they should be doing it today.
“We’re trying to make this fair for everyone,” he added.