Topeka Legislators moved forward Monday on Kansas water policy changes aimed at improving conservation efforts and prolonging the life of water supplies.
It was the latest advancement on what is viewed by many legislators and Republican Gov. Sam Brownback as key measures to preserve the life of the Ogallala Aquifer and give farmers more flexibility to manage their resources during times of drought.
"This is an enormously significant issue for us in the state of Kansas. If we are to have a future, we have to have water," Brownback said.
On Monday, the House approved a bill that would allow water rights holders to form a reservoir improvement district. The bill, which now goes to the Senate, establishes a governing body that has the authority to develop plans to extend the life of reservoirs through management or improvement projects.
Several of Brownback's pieces of water policy changes are close to arriving at his desk. One would remove the 1945 policy requiring water rights holders to use the allotment each year or lose the right to the water. Another change would grant additional flexibility for use of water in dry years.
"Without the changes that allow farmers to adapt to the recent drought, our communities would be facing a serious economic situation," said Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler, a Lindsborg Republican. "In my district, the economic loss to Rice County alone would have been more than $23 million."
Brownback, a former state agriculture secretary, convened a summit in 2011 in western Kansas to discuss ways to conserve water and preserve the life expectancy of the Ogallala, a large aquifer that sustains agriculture and municipal water needs throughout the Great Plains region.
The governor hopes that when the doctrine is repealed, a discussion will begin on how to maintain the value of the water and ensure there is ample supply that can be sustained for decades.
"This has been a desire and push for many years, and I really think we are on the cusp of being able to do something quite significant. It'll be a gift for many generations to come," Brownback said.