Topeka — The Kansas House on Monday approved a measure aimed at stopping a Douglas County water district from condemning land to drill a well and possibly appropriate water rights.
The issue prompted sharp debate, and the legislation - House Bill 2860 - squeaked by 64-57, and will now be considered by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. The Senate approved the bill Saturday.
Supporters of the measure said it was needed to prevent the state from allowing Public Wholesale Water Supply District No. 25 from using eminent domain to appropriate water.
They said that was needed to protect Kansas River Valley farmers from losing availability to water to grow a wide variety of specialty crops.
The bill would put the water district's proposal on hold for two years and require a special committee to study issues concerning the use of eminent domain in trying to attain water rights.
"All we're asking is for two years that we can put a stay on their ability to grab water," said state Rep. Anthony Brown, R-Eudora.
But opponents of the bill said the measure could be interpreted as a change in water law that would affect water rights in other areas of the state.
Some lawmakers said they sympathized with the farmers, but that because the water district made an application for water it must be authorized.
"It's plain and simple," said state Rep. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona. "Those farmers made a mistake. They never applied for water rights."
But Douglas County legislators argued the bill was drafted tightly enough to affect only the situation in Douglas County. They said eminent domain was never meant to be used to condemn land in order to gain rights to underground water.