GARDEN CITY — For farmers in Kansas, water and water usage have become a hot topic that will impact their financial status.
The issue is simple. Farmers draw water out of the ground for crop production. Water is being pumped out of underground aquifers faster than it's being replenished. The Ogallala Aquifer is the source of groundwater in the area.
State and federal government agencies have mandates they have to follow concerning water usage.
Farmers are facing the fact that they may have to reduce their water usage in an effort to prevent draining the aquifers. How can farmers and state and federal agencies work together to find solutions to water usage that will preserve water for now and the future without becoming an economic drain on agriculture?
At the Winter Water Technology Expo in Garden City on Jan. 9, Stephen Lauer, a graduate student at Kansas State University working on his doctorate in sociology, conducted research to find out the attitudes toward groundwater management. A survey of 1,226 producers was taken across the Ogallala region, including 279 in Kansas, with a focus on a diversity of farm sizes and types. There were 41 Kansas producers interviewed and a case study was made of the Wichita County Water Conservation area with a focus on how voluntary group conservation works.
Why do farmers need to conserve water? The answer is simple, but crucial.
"We are running out of water," Lauer said.
This presents a challenge for the Kansas agriculture economy and rural communities.
He found two major issues in groundwater management. Voluntary group efforts are effective at conserving groundwater and should be supported. Technology is most effective when implemented alongside a local commitment to conservation.
Lauer developed five recommendations for voluntary group efforts: Divers stakeholder representation; an early focus on team building; hire an outside facilitator; frequent and respectful community outreach; partner with state and local government.
Lauer's research was aimed at finding out what producers were doing about water conservation. Among his results were: 95% of producers support groundwater conservation. Motivations for conservation include: 84% agree its securing a way of life for future generations; 68% agree it supports local communities; 72% agree it's important in preparing for droughts.
Many producers are already working to conserve water but feel they have reached their limit. Some 72% of producers feel they are already conserving as much water as they possibly can.
Kansas Agriculture Secretary Mike Beam said Finney County producers are working to conserve water. About 25% of the water rights owners have voluntarily entered agreements to conserve water.
Beam said the most exciting thing he was seeing was the development of technology that allows producers to more precise in their water usage. The Kansas Water Office and Division of water resources are cooperating on this problem Water Technology farms have been established to continue technology development.