Topeka — Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and state water officials want to spend $4 million from a court award to reduce pumping of the High Plains aquifer in western Kansas.
The proposal is part of a package the Kansas Water Office has before the Legislature this session. It also includes funds to study changes to the bed of the Kansas River between Topeka and Lawrence.
"All Kansans stand to benefit from putting in place the projects identified," Kansas Water Authority Chairman Steve Irsik said.
The major project would take a portion of funds from a $34.6 million judgment Kansas received after a lawsuit determined Colorado was taking more than its fair share from the Arkansas River.
The $4 million would be used as payments to landowners to stop irrigating and instead set aside land for soil and water conservation.
The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program would be for some irrigated lands adjacent to the Arkansas River from the Kansas-Colorado line east to Great Bend.
Officials say they want to sustain available water in the High Plains aquifer, which underlies eight states, including 38 percent of Kansas. Ninety percent of the water pumped from the aquifer is used for agriculture, and studies have shown some areas of it will be depleted in 25 years, while others could last another 200 years.
"The goal is to try to avoid an abrupt transition, which not only would hurt farmers but communities, too," House Democratic Leader Dennis McKinney, of Greensburg, said.
A smaller project on the Water Office's list is to provide $170,000 to study degradation - the lowering of the streambed - of the Kansas River between Topeka and Lawrence.
An initial study last year said riverbed degradation had caused millions of dollars in economic damages and created environmental problems.
The degradation caused bank erosion and widened the channel in some areas, forcing cities, water districts and energy companies to construct weirs, or barriers in the channel to control water, the study concluded.
Changes in the riverbed were caused by natural flooding, dams, commercial sand and gravel dredging, and channel degradation on the Missouri River, according to the study.