Gov. wants water vision
By MIKE CORN
MANHATTAN -- Ellis County Administrator Greg Sund hailed Gov. Sam Brownback's call to put in place a vision of what the state of Kansas water will be in 50 years.
Not so fast, said Ellis County Commissioner Swede Holmgren, who said that might be too little, too late.
Instead, he said, western Kansas needs a vision for the next five to 10 years.
Failing that, there won't be much left.
Sund and Holmgren were among the nearly 500 people attending the opening day of the Governor's Conference on the Future of Water in Kansas. Most of those attending have ties to water or agriculture, but there were relatively few irrigators -- responsible for using 85 percent of the state's water -- in the crowd.
Brownback's call to action, that of establishing where the state needs to be 50 years from now, at least in terms of water, was announced Thursday -- even though the plan has been in the works since early August when the Governor's Council of Economic Advisers suggested establishing a plan and then figuring out how to get there.
Brownback directed state agencies to develop the plan and deliver it to his office no later than Nov. 1, 2014.
It's the second year for Holmgren and Sund to attend the conference, and Sund said he was disappointed no vision came out of the meeting a year ago.
"It's important," Sund said of setting a goal. "You have to do that."
Holmgren, however, was disappointed local legislators said they didn't expect the 2013 session to produce much water legislation.
He planned to ask the same question again today, although he voiced concern legislators taking part in a panel discussion all but vowed to avoid implementing any mandates to reduce water use from the Ogallala.
"I think the 50-year plan will be a panacea to do nothing," Holmgren said.
Opinions varied among other people attending, and Brownback offered few assurances his call will result in more than what a series of studies since the early 1980s have produced.
After appearing in the ballroom at Manhattan's three-star Hilton Garden Inn and Conference Center not far from Kansas State University, Brownback wouldn't go so far as to say it's time to call for across-the-board cuts in water use by irrigators.
"Everybody says we need to curtail the use of water," he said. "I really think the process is to get a vision established and then decide how to get there.
"That's something we really haven't done," Brownback said.
He thinks now is the time to take action.
"I think we're at that point where action can happen," Brownback said of the mood of the state in taking steps to halt water level declines in the Ogallala.
Along the way to reaching that 50-year goal, a series of vision meetings will be conducted across the state.
No schedule has been laid out, but Kansas Water Office Director Tracy Streeter said "we've got a challenge now. I guess I'll be canceling my vacation now."
Streeter said Brownback's decision to set a 50-year vision has been in the works for several weeks and comes just as state water agencies are preparing an update to the state's water plan.
"If you don't have an opportunity and a chance to participate in this, you need to speak up," he said.