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Archive for Wednesday, November 7, 2001

Changes sought in management of giant aquifer

November 7, 2001

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— A new plan designed by western Kansans would localize management of the Ogallala Aquifer, the region's primary water source, to small sub-units with similar characteristics.

The Kansas Water Authority officially was to receive the plan formally today in Dodge City. The authority is to decide Thursday morning whether to accept the proposal, the first step to including it in the state's 2004 water plan.

Also proposed by the Ogallala Aquifer Management Advisory Committee is abandonment the so-called two-pools proposal that established a "use" pool and a "conservation" pool within the aquifer.

In its report, the committee said it believes that incentive-based programs, improvements in technology and education are the best way to conserve and extend the life of the aquifer.

"This is the lifeblood of western Kansas, and that makes it the lifeblood of all of Kansas," said Rex Buchanan of Lawrence, associate director of the Kansas Geological Survey.

Buchanan, who was one of the staff members working with the citizen group, said the new plan recognizes the variable nature of the aquifer from place to place.

"It will help in the sense that it will identify the areas where the problem is more severe, and focus on them," he said.

Garden City farmer Cliff Mayo, one of the four Kansas Water Authority members who sat on the committee that drafted the proposal, said he expected the full board will accept the proposal.

"I'm satisfied that we have given it our best effort to this point," Mayo said. "I'm not satisfied it is the total answer because I don't know what the answer ought to be."

Mayo said that the two-pool concept was not accepted by the groundwater management districts and residents of western Kansas because it was perceived as an intrusion on their property rights. He called it a misunderstanding by the public of the two-pool proposal.

"It wasn't accepted and it wouldn't be accepted," he said. "The terminology was dropped."

The committee's plan would delineate the Ogallala Aquifer into aquifer sub-units with similar characteristics.

Water use goals would then be set according to the decline of groundwater.

Areas with ample water supplies would need either no or modest reductions in water use. For those areas with rapid declines in groundwater, and short usable lifetime, more aggressive goals should be set, the committee recommended.

For those areas with rapid decline in groundwater, strict administration of existing water law should be applied if incentive and voluntary plans fail, according to the plan.

The proposal also calls for research and education to extend and conserve the life of the Ogallala.

"There isn't one single magic bullet out there that is going to solve this problem," Buchanan said.

Among the options proposed were both conservation and reduction of the number of authorized water rights. That would include seeking federal funding for voluntary water right purchases to retire water rights and encourage incentives for water rights retirement.

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