Archive for Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Legislature wades into water dispute

Bill would restrict use of eminent domain in searches for new supply sources

February 27, 2008


— A water war in the Kansas River Valley has moved to the Legislature.

Some farmers in Douglas County are pushing for passage of a bill that they say would prevent a water district from using eminent domain to condemn their land to drill for groundwater.

"I'm not trying to keep people from getting water, but they could deal with private citizens if they need to without having to go through condemnation," Sen. Roger Pine, R-Lawrence, who introduced Senate Bill 559, said Tuesday.

The dispute is over an effort by the Public Wholesale Water Supply District No. 25, which was formed to try to supply water needs to growing rural parts of southern Douglas County, and Franklin, Shawnee and Osage counties.

But some farmers say they need the water to support a wide variety of specialty crops.

Mark Neis, of Eudora, urged lawmakers this week to approve Pine's bill, saying, "I'm not here to block development or growth, but to protect what I view is not only my future, but the future of family farming, which is shrinking every day."

Burke Griggs, a water attorney from Lawrence, said Public Wholesale Water Supply District No. 25 seeks to gain land from Gregory Shipe, owner of Davenport Orchards, Vineyards and Winery, through condemnation to obtain water rights.

State law has allowed public water supply districts to use eminent domain and condemnation proceedings, but that has been limited to acquire land within their own boundaries to get easements for water lines, Griggs said.

Larry Wray, chairman of Public Wholesale Water Supply District No. 25, said there is a lot of confusion about what is going on.

"We're doing eminent domain for test drilling. If we don't find any water, we're going to move on," he said.

But if there is water, Wray said, the district will have to consider its options.

Elmer Ronnebaum, general manager of the Kansas Rural Water Association, said public wholesale districts need the power of eminent domain.

"An inability to use eminent domain, when necessary in the public interest, will terminate future construction of public wholesale water supply systems," he said.

The bill is being considered by the Senate Agriculture Committee.


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