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SPOTLIGHT
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EPA decision could bolster water supply

Published on -12/25/2012, 12:02 PM

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Probably just a few Kansans were last week lauding the hand-in-glove moves by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Kansas Department of Agriculture to make Kansas safe for fans of barbecued ribs.

What?

Well, it starts with the drought across Kansas, which jeopardizes the state's vast agriculture industry and gives us all new reason to conserve water. Drought isn't just a farm problem.

But, for rib eaters, the first good news -- drought or no drought -- was that the EPA has declared that ethanol produced from sorghum qualifies for use under the Renewable Fuels Standard Program. Kansas is a top national sorghum producer, and the EPA decision means there is more market for Kansas-grown sorghum. More markets are always good, especially one that is linked to federal requirements for more ethanol in motor fuels.

And that EPA decision (Can you remember the last time a Kansan had anything good to say about the EPA?) opens a bigger market for sorghum.

Here's where some smart drought-battling comes in.

Kansas Agriculture Secretary Dale Rodman saying his agency is going to encourage Kansas farmers to grow sorghum this crop year, and not just because of the new EPA decision.

It's because, Rodman figures, sorghum requires maybe 10 to 11 inches of water a year to grow, while corn and soybeans typically require 18 to 24 inches of water for a good crop.

In the likely-to-continue Kansas drought, farmers may decide that unless they are in one of the state's few water-plentiful areas, they'll give themselves a better chance for a crop by growing sorghum than corn. Sure, all crops are a gamble. But farmers -- probably the most dedicated gamblers among Kansans because they essentially gamble their livelihoods with every crop they plant -- might increase their odds of success with a drought-resistant crop.

To battle the drought, state agencies are suggesting water districts and water utilities take another look at their pricing so that turning on the tap becomes an economic decision for water users. Ideally, prices stay low for some reasonable amount of water for everyday use, but at higher usages discourage wasteful use.

And, the state is proposing that water districts double-check their supplies and in some cases interconnect with neighboring water districts so that they can help each other out if a well or the river dries up.

Look for lots of suggestions brought on by the continuing drought about how we use and conserve the vital resource of water for Kansans.

But, that EPA ruling/low-water-use sorghum crop suggestion has another benefit. We won't be using as much corn to make ethanol for motor fuels.

And that frees up corn for what some of us consider its noblest use -- feeding hogs so that we have a steady supply of ribs to barbecue.

Syndicated by Hawver News Co. of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver's Capitol Report. To learn more about this nonpartisan statewide political news service, visit www.hawvernews.com.

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