Water reductions closer to reality
By MIKE CORN
HOXIE -- Irrigators in the western reaches of Sheridan County are a step closer to seeing their water use reduced under a plan they proposed to the state.
The hearing officer appointed by the Division of Water Resources has issued a order finding Northwest Kansas Groundwater Management District No. 4 met the requirements necessary to move ahead with a local enhanced management area.
It's the first one of its kind in Kansas, part of an idea proposed to the Kansas Legislature earlier this year by GMD 4 after earlier efforts to reduce water use fell apart because the state lacked a way to give irrigators what they were asking for.
Thursday's order clearing the way for a second hearing -- focusing on the proposal put forward by members of what is known as Sheridan 6 in Sheridan and Thomas counties -- is a result of a Sept. 13 hearing in the Sheridan County Courthouse. The Sheridan 6 area is considered a high-priority area because water levels have declined precipitously.
For the most part, hearing officer Constance Owen adopted GMD 4's testimony, finding the circumstances necessary to designate a LEMA had been met.
"The public comments largely supported the designated boundary for this LEMA, many characterizing it as a good first step in addressing water level declines throughout the GMD," Owen's order states. "One commenter seems to argue that water users in the proposed LEMA area will be disadvantaged by additional limitations in water use, in comparison to those not within the LEMA. However, this argument would seem to apply no matter what the LEMA boundaries may ultimately be, and, therefore, is, in essence, an argument against the corrective controls proposed by the LEMA plan. As such, the argument is beyond the scope of this decision."
The "controls" proposed will be the focus of the second hearing, expected sometime in November.
What irrigators are proposing is to limit water use to 11 acre-inches of water a year, nearly a 20-percent reduction. Across the 99 sections of land in the proposed area, water use through the course of five years would be limited to approximately 114,000 acre-feet of water.
A second hearing date hasn't been set yet, but there has to be at least 30 days notice, according to Wayne Bossert, manager of GMD 4 and the chief architect of the LEMA idea embraced by legislators.
"They're going to set it pretty soon," he said of DWR Chief Engineer David Barfield, who will preside at the second hearing. "It will be in Hoxie. Same place."
It's going to be a rush, however, as Bossert and the GMD want the program to start Jan. 1.
While Barfield will look at what is being proposed, he'll only have the option to accept the recommendation or send it back to the GMD with suggestions. He won't be able to alter the program.