Having a 50-year vision for the state’s water supplies is a commendable goal, and Gov. Sam Brownback deserves credit for galvanizing state agencies to produce a draft of that vision not later than Nov. 1, 2014.
The governor set that deadline at a water conference in Manhattan on Oct. 24.
“Water and the Kansas economy are directly linked. Water is a finite resource and without further planning and action we will no longer be able to meet our state’s current needs, let alone growth,” he said in ordering the Kansas Water Office, Kansas Department of Agriculture and Kansas Water Authority, along with the Kansas Departments of Health and Environment and Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, to lead the vision. At the same time, he called upon his Council of Economic Advisors to engage in the planning because of the link he cited between water and the economy.
“We are at a pivotal moment in our state. We can talk these issues to death, but without vision we won’t be able to address these priorities,” he said. “Ensuring each citizen has a reliable water supply includes addressing both the groundwater decline in the Ogallala Aquifer as well as securing, protecting and restoring our reservoir storage,” he said.
All that’s well and good, but the Kansas Water Office got matters off to a questionable start with its plans to begin dredging reservoirs, showing once again that the Brownback administration has not learned its lesson about involving affected people and entities in planning efforts when policy shifts of a significant magnitude are being implemented.
The reservoir dredging proposal, if carried beyond the pilot at John Redmond Reservoir, might cost Kansans in excess of a billion dollars, some knowledgeable sources fume, and the cost burden is aimed directly at cities, utilities and other water consumers.
The major players were not informed of the proposal and not invited to the Manhattan conference. The hand-picked Reservoir Advisory Committee that was created to craft the dredging proposal is almost totally lacking representation from the very river basin in which the dredging is proposed. How canny is that?
In fact, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, which could have dredged the reservoir, decided instead to reallocate the water in John Redmond, providing decades more supply to the reservoir’s users. There should be several lessons from that example.
Kansas desperately needs better stewardship of its water supply. It is finite, as the governor said. That’s even more reason it’s essential to bring the public, as well as the municipalities and other organizations that will be affected by any “comprehensive” plan, into the discussion.
Let’s hope Kansas is not in for another debacle like the closing of Social and Rehabilitation Services offices that resulted from decisions being made without involving those who were closest to the situation in the discussion.