Archive for Friday, January 10, 1992

SIXTH INSERIES

January 10, 1992

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It's a fairly dry issue compared to other controversies on the Kansas Legislature's thorny 1992 agenda.

But fights on water transfer legislation could be on tap during the session, say two area members of a northeast Kansas water advisory panel.

"The issue is not appreciated by the public," says Ernest Angino, a former Lawrence mayor who is a member of the Kansas-Lower Republican Basin Advisory Committee.

What's at stake is economic growth and future job growth cities that have enough water will reap the economic benefits, says Angino, a Kansas University geology professor.

"KANSAS IS not overly endowed with all the water it needs," he said. "That's why I think we're going to see some real donnybrooks fought out in the courts over the water issues in the state in the next 10 years."

The proposed legislation is fairly technical in nature, but deals with changes in the state oversight and review procedures for water transfers, said Steve Hurst, director of the Kansas Water Office.

Hurst, a Lawrence resident, said a key element in the proposal is that it would change language in the water transfer law. One purpose of the changes is to make it easier to transfer water from larger communities to nearby smaller ones.

The state is split roughly in half into two major river basins, he said.

The Kansas River basin, which is water-rich, generally serves the northern half of the state, including Lawrence, Topeka and Johnson County. The Arkansas River basin, which has less water, generally serves the southern half, including Wichita and Hutchinson.

THE PROPOSED legislation is designed to make it easier for water transfers to be made within the same river basin although the state would continue to review social, political, environmental and economic impacts of the transfers, he said.

The rationale for that change is to encourage communities within the same drainage system to work together to develop reliable water supplies, Hurst said.

In the future, not every small community will be able to afford water treatment plants because stricter federal water quality standards will make them more costly, he said.

"Everybody would like to have their own supply, but as a practical matter, with the new standards coming out and the possible drought conditions we're facing, that's not a practical thing," Hurst said.

One controversial point in the proposal is that it would set up tougher requirements for interbasin transfers, from the Kansas River basin to the Arkansas River basin, he said.

UNDER current law, a water transfer proposal of more than 325 million gallons over 10 miles triggers a rigorous review by a three-member panel consisting of the chief engineer of the Department of Agriculture's division of water resources, the director of the Kansas Water Office and the secretary of health and environment.

Under the proposal, requests for interbasin transfers would be heard by a "special master," or someone, preferably from out of the state, who is an expert in the legal and scientific aspects of water flow.

So far there have been no requests for interbasin transfers, Hurst said.

However, a plan is in the works to pipe water from Milford Lake near Junction City to southern Kansas. The proposal is being put together by Public Wholesale Water Supply District No. 10, which includes Wichita and about 15 other central and southern Kansas communities.

"WE'RE TRYING to get this new legislation set up before they get a formal request," Angino said.

Angino, who directs the Water Resources Center at Kansas University, says he's not certain how far the proposed legislation may go this year.

"They may decide to bottle it up in committee," Angino said.

Another member of the Kansas-Lower Republican Basin Advisory Committee says he's not certain whether the issue will be controversial.

"In terms of whether it's going to be an explosive issue in the Legislature, I don't know," said Roger K. "Kent" Weatherby, Tonganoxie.

Weatherby, who is secretary of the Kansas River Water Assurance District, said he didn't like part of the proposed legislation that removes the Water Transfers Act from the umbrella of the Kansas Administrative Procedures Act.

According to Weatherby, the administrative procedures act is "the act that all the truly significant state actions fall under.

"Well, I can't think of anything more significant than water transfers."

Coming Saturday: Possible changes in criminal sentencing.

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