Dodge City — An incentive-based management plan to extend the life of the Ogallala Aquifer, the primary water source for western Kansas, won unanimous approval Thursday by the Kansas Water Authority.
The conservation program still faces a lengthy process of public hearings and legislative approvals before it's officially incorporated into the official 2004 Kansas Water Plan.
"I was very pleased with the participation of the local people this truly is their plan and their thoughts," Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Jamie Clover Adams said. "There clearly is a commitment by the people."
Under the voluntary proposal drafted by committees of mostly western Kansans, the Ogallala would be delineated into subunits with similar aquifer characteristics such as available water, recharge and water use.
Areas with ample supplies would see either no or modest reductions in water-use goals, while more aggressive goals would be set for those areas where the groundwater is in rapid decline and with a short estimated lifetime.
"This will only work with the complete cooperation of the people of western Kansas, those who are affected," said Kent Lamb, chairman of the Kansas Water Authority.
This new version abandoned the controversial two-pools proposal that established a "use" pool and a "conservation" pool within the aquifer. That idea was rejected by farmers who saw it as an infringement of water property rights.
"It wasn't well-received in western Kansas it was taken as a takeaway by all of us," said Tom Bogner, a Dodge City farmer and chairman of the committee that drafted the proposal.
In its report, the committee said it believes that incentive-based programs and improvements in technology and education are the best ways to conserve and extend the life of the aquifer.
At the core of the new management plan is recognition that the Ogallala varies from place to place, and should be managed differently in each place.
Among the recommendations for reducing water use are federal and state water rights buybacks, cost share, technical assistance for more efficient irrigation systems and regulation enforcement.
"This is a good starting point," Clover Adams said.
The agriculture secretary said she sees the plan as a renewed commitment to water conservation, and said several parts of it could be implemented immediately.
Among them is strict enforcement of laws against overpumping. In the last three years, the state has had 30 to 40 such cases out of nearly 30,000 water rights. In most cases, the overpumping stopped the first season once the issue was raised with those irrigators, she said.
Assuming a saturated thickness of 30 feet as the minimum amount necessary to support irrigation, the Kansas Geological Survey has concluded that parts of the aquifer are effectively exhausted in Greeley, Wichita and Scott counties.
Other parts of the Ogallala, in areas such as southwestern Thomas County, are predicted to have a life span of less than 25 years based on past decline trends, the agency said.
Most of the aquifer will not be depleted for 50 to 200 years, based on past trends, according to the KGS.