“If we are to have a future, we have to have water,” says Gov. Sam Brownback.
He definitely has that right!
The governor has stacked initiative upon initiative into his first term in office, and water policy changes are part of his ambitious legislative agenda. Two water bills working their way through the process appear especially significant.
House Bill 2451 is intended to remove the “use it or lose it” provision attached to groundwater rights and thereby conserve water. It’s touted as protecting, at least to a limited extent, the Ogallala Aquifer, letting rights-holders maintain their rights without forcing them to use the water. Knowledgeable observers, however, point out that until sufficient funding is provided to repurchase water rights and address the consumption patterns affecting the aquifer, little progress can be expected. And given the current attractive prices for irrigated crops, the incentive to retire water rights is low.
House Bill 2685 would enable rights holders to create a “reservoir improvement district” so that those who depend upon a reservoir’s capacity would have a way of extending its life; the federal reservoirs and water supply lakes in the state are, unfortunately, filling with sediment and at rates generally faster than projected. That certainly is true at both Clinton and Perry reservoirs.
The bill, which some say was written to give Westar Energy more authority over John Redmond reservoir southeast of Emporia, conceivably could help cities, rural water districts and other rights-holders extend the lives of lakes that supply their drinking water. However, it fails to address the real problem related to siltation: lack of land treatment above the lakes. Until the loss of soil from upstream fields is stopped, other efforts are Band-Aids in a losing battle.
Short of a major overhaul of Kansas water law, and an attempt to address how the state will fund efforts to protect the quantity and quality of its water, these bills seem to be prudent, although incomplete, efforts that generally could benefit the state’s residents.