SCOTT CITY — The drought is getting so bad in parts of Kansas that farmers are weighing whether to borrow from next year's water allocation to quench this year's crops.
The state's Division of Water Resources has offered water rights holders in selected counties a pair of options for adjusting the way they use their five-year allocations. The program is a condition of a drought declaration for dozens of Kansas counties that have been long suffering under drought conditions.
The Hays Daily News reports that farmers and ranchers are more likely to participate in southwestern counties coping with less than half the normal rainfall.
Jan King, manager of the Western Groundwater Management District No. 1 in southern Wallace County, said irrigators would be allow to borrow from their 2012 allocation or participate in a flexible account system that spreads their water rights allocation over five years.
"I've heard a lot of people talking about it. I think there will be interest," King said. "It has been very dry here."
The offer is for water rights holders to pump more water from aquifers this summer in effort to save crops and keep livestock going. The amount of water used this year will be deducted from the amount users could pump in 2012.
King has seen the drought take a toll on her wheat crop harvested in nearby Logan County.
"It was so pitiful. I don't even want to talk about it," she said.
To the north, farmers and ranchers are less likely to participate in the water program.
Wayne Bossert, manager of the Northwest Kansas Groundwater Management District No. 4, said the area has been dry, but has received about 80 percent of normal rainfall. About 2 inches fell July 1 and other rains have fallen since then.
"I don't think we'll have very many interested up here," Bossert said.
Bossert said irrigators further south in other groundwater management districts will use the program. He and others have asked the Division of Water Resources' chief engineer David Barfield to closely monitor interest in the program.
The goal is to keep crops from withering and dying if farmers have pumped their limits from wells. The emergency pumping program will allow extra water use so the crops mature and can be harvested, albeit at reduced yields.
"It's just borrowing against next year," Bossert said.
King said irrigators in her district will do the two-year option, even though it limits usage levels next year if normal conditions don't return.
"At least they'll have a year to decide how they'll do their cropping practices," she said.