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Reaction to water vision mixed

7/8/2014

By MIKE CORN

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

The first draft of the state's water vision is getting mixed reviews, and even supporters are suggesting some goals might not be attainable.

How all that plays out when the Water Vision team visits Stockton on Wednesday is uncertain. Some key players in the water venue won't be attending the Stockton session -- set from 11:30 to 1 p.m. Wednesday in Harding Hall at Rooks County Fairgrounds. And observers will have only 90 minutes to offer their views on a process six months in the making.

"I think it's a good start," said Hays City Manager Toby Dougherty, who headed to Wichita for the inaugural public meeting to discuss the 50-year water vision developed by the Kansas Water Office and Kansas Department of Agriculture.

He'll also take the opportunity in Wichita to meet with the city's water lawyer and engineer.

Staff from the city of Hays will be attending other sessions, including Bernard Kitten, the city's utility director.

"There's an awful lot of good ideas in there," said Colby irrigator Lon Frahm, a former member of the Kansas Water Authority and a longtime board member of the Northwest Kansas Groundwater Management District No. 4 based in Colby.

But for environmental activist Bob Hooper, Bogue, it's a case of too-little, too-late. Reducing irrigation by 20 percent during the course of the next 50 years, he said, only amounts to four-tenths of 1 percent annually.

Hooper is a longtime supporter of limiting water use from the Ogallala, a massive source of underground water underlying eight Great Plains states.

The 20-percent reduction during the next 50 years contradicts a Kansas State University study suggesting massive declines in the Ogallala if use is unchanged.

"So far, 30 percent of the groundwater has been pumped and another 39 percent will be depleted over the next 50 years given existing trends," the study said.

That 50-year decline stood out to Dougherty, who wondered about the specific goal mentioned in the discussion draft.

But he's also uncertain many cities will be willing to adopt 20-percent reductions in water use, especially those in water-rich areas of eastern Kansas.

That 20-percent reduction would be in place by 2035, according to the plan.

Specifically, Dougherty was delighted to see a suggestion about relaxing transfers between river basins in the state.

"You can't get more helpful to us than that," he said.

Hays city commissioners, at Dougherty's request, endorsed the idea of developing the city owned R9 Ranch in Edwards County to serve as a longtime source of water for Hays, as well as serving as a regional source.

But he also thinks the plan should include the idea of capturing storm water runoff, treating it and returning it to an aquifer for future use.

Current law, he said, doesn't cover water pumped back into an aquifer after treatment.

As for irrigators, there's some concern the state isn't crediting farmers who already are taking steps to conserve.

"I would say a lot of us, we feel we're already doing everything that is included in this plan," Frahm said.

Irrigators already are doing "a lot more with less water," he said.

Corn yields have tripled since 1990, Frahm said, even though water use has be cut in half.

"Economics will dictate a lot of that," he said. "Economics can make us good stewards of the land."

Hooper long has advocated for sharp reductions in water use and objects to the predominance of irrigators on committees and panels representing water in Kansas.

He'd also like to see a more neutral agency, such as the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, administering water rights than the Agriculture Department.