Purchase photos

Water plan sets goals for use

7/2/2014

By MIKE CORN

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Much like the old and well-worn cliche, it appears the Kansas Water Office wants the state to guzzle all its water and keep it, too.

That's the apparent scenario laid out in the discussion draft of the agency's "Vision for the Future of Water in Kansas," something of a wish-list for water in Kansas.

While the document, released late Monday, is designed to set the stage for a series of meetings next week, the plan makes a number of recommendations concerning future water use. But it doesn't include a lot of concrete solutions -- other than education, unspecified incentives, general support and a few changes in the state's water law -- to the water-use dilemma prompting development of the plan.

Among the suggestions proposed by the plan is one calling for a 20-percent reduction in individual water consumption. But the deadline for that reduction isn't until 2035.

Ellis County Administrator Greg Sund, who had not yet read the report, voiced concern at that recommendation's effect because of the small amount of water used for drinking.

Instead, he said, if the state simply adopted conservation tactics already in place in Hays, it likely would far exceed that target.

As well, there's a recommendation for a 20-percent cut in "total consumptive use" in the Ogallala Aquifer while retaining the state's rank as a top-20 state in gross domestic product.

But the deadline for that reduction in water use from the Ogallala isn't until 2065 -- more than 50 years in the future.

And that prompted Sund to point to a 2013 study already suggesting the Ogallala would be depleted in many areas by then -- one of the driving forces for development of the water vision.

That study, by Kansas State University researcher David Steward, suggested the Ogallala in Kansas will be 70-percent depleted if nothing's done in the next 50 years.

"Water use reductions of 20 percent today would cut agricultural production to the levels of 15 to 20 years ago," Steward said in his study, a move that could extend irrigation to 2070.

Most water planners in Kansas, however, consider Steward's timeline overly optimistic.

The water vision suggests a goal of increasing the usable life of all areas of the Ogallala by a minimum of 25 years, but it's unclear how that might be reached.

To do that, the document suggests increasing enforcement for overpumping and closing overappropriated areas. It also suggests looking at the idea of eliminating or modifying the state's priority system of first-in-time, first-in-right in areas with limited recharge.

Likely, some of those still-unanswered questions will be discussed at a series of upcoming meetings planned throughout the state.

Ironically, even though Hays is considered a leader in water conservation, it's being bypassed by the water vision team.

Instead, only two of the 12 public meetings are planned for northwest Kansas, both of them Wednesday.

The first will be from 7 to 8:30 a.m. at the Colby Community Building.

A second meeting will be from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the 4-H building at the Rooks County Fairgrounds in Stockton.