Purchase photos

Governor says water a 'key issue'





DODGE CITY -- The study suggesting the effective demise of the Ogallala Aquifer within 50 years if irrigation continues unabated might be a starting point to discuss what the state needs to do to extend the life of the water supply.

That was the suggestion of Gov. Sam Brownback after listening to members of his Council of Economic Advisers, a consortium of business executives from across the state.

Ten members of the governor's board listened Tuesday in Dodge City to a litany of information about the Ogallala, focusing primarily on its value to the Kansas economy.

In opening the meeting, Brownback noted the Kansas State University study released Monday -- the eve of the economic advisers' meeting.

"One of the key issues for this region -- for the state -- is water," Brownback said of setting aside the group's afternoon meeting to talk about the Ogallala in the western third of the state.

"It's an enormous gift," Brownback said of the Ogallala, "that has been given to this region of the world. But it is finite."

They also talked about issues affecting reservoirs, which either supplies or augments other surface water supplies for many communities in eastern Kansas.

Brownback cited the KSU study in opening the meeting.

"It showed where we are, where we're going and where we could go, and that's what I like about it," he said.

The study suggests 30 percent of the aquifer already is gone and 39 percent more will be depleted by 2060, if irrigators don't change their practices soon.

Likely, that's an optimistic scenario as the study suggested as much as 15 percent of the water used each year is recharged by rainfall.

In southwest Kansas where the water use is heaviest and the Ogallala most abundant, the recharge is closer to 9 percent, according to Mark Rude, manager of the Southwest Kansas Groundwater Management District No. 3.

Water use reductions of just 20 percent, the study said, could extend the life of the aquifer by another 20 years. It would, however, also push corn yields back to the level seen 15 to 20 years ago.

"Our subject, it was so diverse and so complicated, we didn't do a lot," council member Larry Jones said of a task force of sorts that broke away to talk about solutions.

One of the possible solutions has been the idea of taking excess water from the Missouri River in northeast Kansas and shipping it southwest via a huge aqueduct. Depending on cost, it then could be used to help recharge the Ogallala or sold directly to farmers wanting to irrigate crops.

As members of the group tossed around possible solutions, they came full circle to deciding where the state wants to be in 50 years and then setting up the mechanism to get there.

"That might be an interesting point to start with," Brownback said.

With that, he suggested the group take another look at the issue six months down the road.

"This might be a turning point day," Brownback said. "Very interesting thoughts."