The 80-page report looks impressive. Titled "A Long-Term Vision for the Future of Water Supply in Kansas," second draft, it outlines the steps the state of Kansas will take to deal with reservoirs filling up with sediment and an aquifer that is being drained by irrigators.
Unveiled by Gov. Sam Brownback in Manhattan last week, the paper offers the best approach to dealing with both problems. It represents the consensus will derived after 250 meetings, input from more than 12,000 people, and more than a year's worth of attention from the Kansas Water Office, Kansas Water Authority, Kansas Department of Agriculture, Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, and the governor's own Council of Economic Advisors.
The 80-page report is filled with promise. Statements are included such as: "The writing is on the wall and if we don't act today, our future is bleak. The Ogallala Aquifer is declining faster than it is recharging. Reservoirs, which are critical water storage structures for much of our state, are filling with sediment. At this rate, with no changes in the next 50 years, the Ogallala will be 70 percent depleted and our reservoirs will be 40 percent filled with sediment."
Studies show the aquifer already has been diminished 30 percent since irrigation began in the 1940s. A map in the new report shows 41 counties have pockets of the Ogallala that won't support irrigation for even 25 more years. It is acknowledged the aquifer is overappropriated with more than 39,000 water rights for groundwater and 6,000 for surface water.
The report points out those water rights do "not constitute ownership of such water, only the right to use it for beneficial purposes." And this: "If we remain united and committed to implementing the strategies defined in this Vision, future generations will look back on the work we do and say that's the generation of Kansans who worked together to protect and conserve the state's water resources today and for the future."
And what are these bold strategies? Creating a Governor's Water Resources Sub-Cabinet. Establishing a blue ribbon task force to figure out a way to finance water resource management and protection. Developing several boards, including a task force to develop educational programs. Developing regional planning areas who can devise local solutions about how to extend the life of the Ogallala and increase storage capacity in the reservoirs. From those regions will come leadership teams appointed by the Kansas Water Authority to develop draft goals, which would be forwarded back to the water authority and then to the Legislature.
The 80-page report, in other words, will do nothing. To be sure, there will be busy work for a lot of people for years to come. And everybody will tout putting control into the hands of locals.
We can't help but recall the Groundwater Management Act that was enacted in 1972. The five locally developed groundwater management districts had "the flexibility to adopt management practices based on local hydrologic conditions. The purpose of the Act was to preserve basic water law doctrine as established by the Water Appropriation Act while establishing the right and responsibility of local water users to determine their future with respect to groundwater use."
We can't help but recall the GMDs because we were reminded about them in the same 80-page report released last week. And every year these local stewards have been empowered, the Ogallala has drained up to 4 feet. Most years weren't that bad, but there wasn't a single year the aquifer recharged itself naturally by more than one-half inch.
Missing from these 80 pages is even one goal to decrease that imbalance. We panned the first draft of the vision because it recommended reducing the amount of water pumped from the Ogallala some 20 percent by the year 2065. Even that too-little-too-late measure did not make it to the Manhattan meeting. So an already diluted plan of action was watered down even further.
The 80-page report promises little beyond meetings for at least the next year. It doesn't even have to be presented to the Legislature until 2016.
The 50-Year Vision for the Future of Water in Kansas -- all 80 pages -- is not worth the paper it was printed upon.
Meanwhile, irrigating federally subsidized corn plantings will continue unabated. The Ogallala Aquifer is being asked to provide until the day it is bone dry.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry