Archive for Monday, October 22, 2001

Sand and gravel industry upset by water-use law

Regulations could drive companies out of business, operators say

October 22, 2001

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— Kansas' $125 million sand and gravel industry is warning that a newly passed water-use regulation designed to protect groundwater could eventually spell the industry's end.

The regulation requires sand and gravel companies whose digs cause groundwater evaporation to buy water rights when they expand or move to a new location.

Since no rights are available in western Kansas, where the state's largest pits are located, that means operators who exhaust an existing site would simply have to go out of business, said Woody Moses, a spokesman for the Kansas Aggregate Producers Assn.

Lisa Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Agriculture, said sand and gravel operators would "just have to wait" until a water right "became available to purchase."

Still, the regulation's intent is not to drive anybody out of business but rather to protect a "finite" natural resource, Taylor said.

Moses agreed that groundwater is a valuable resource. But he said evaporation from sand pits accounts for such a small amount of Kansas water use that it has virtually no effect on groundwater.

He said pits can actually help the water table in some arid regions by holding surface runoff that would otherwise be lost.

Moses said Kansas sand and gravel companies supply material for 95,000 miles of roads in rural Kansas as well as for other industries like insulation and glass manufacturing.

He said buying water rights especially if companies are forced to outbid other industries seeking them would not be feasible.

"Sand and gravel are not high-value commodities," he said. "What we'll see is operations moving to Oklahoma or Colorado and trucking into Kansas. It'll cost counties and townships more for gravel, and it will move jobs and money out of Kansas."

Moses said the trade group will probably seek help for the issue from state lawmakers.

"I don't see the state doing without a sand and gravel industry," he said. "I think it'll be up to the Legislature to solve the problem."

The regulation also would require sand and gravel companies to obtain an industrial use water permit by Dec. 31, but that will not cause trouble for the industry, Moses said.

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