Archive for Thursday, April 24, 2014

Lawrence residents share views on future of Kansas water

April 24, 2014


Lawrence-area residents shared their views about how the state should manage its water during a public forum about the long-term future of the state's water resources. And some of those ideas probably will not sit well with farmers in western Kansas.

Among the ideas suggested were fundamental changes in Kansas water law that would require farmers in western Kansas to pay a fee for pumping water out of the Ogallala Aquifer.

"This may sound crazy, but it seems to me part of the problem is caused by the free use of water," one man asked. "Is it possible to construct some sort of a fee structure so use of the Ogallala Aquifer is not free, it has some sort of a fee?"

Kansas Agriculture Secretary Jackie McClaskey said it wasn't the first time she'd heard that suggestion. In the roughly six months that she and Kansas Water Office Director Tracy Streeter have been holding public hearings on the long-term future of Kansas water, several people have suggested putting some kind of price tag on the state's groundwater resources to encourage conservation.

But McClaskey said the problem is more complex than it seems.

"One of the things we have tried to look at is really asking maybe a more theoretical question: How do you figure out just how much is that acre-foot of water worth," McClaskey said. "Trying to value that water is the first step."

The forum Thursday at the Kansas Union was one of several that McClaskey and Streeter plan to conduct throughout the state in the coming months as they and other state officials try to put together a long-term plan for the future of Kansas water resources.

Tracy Streeter, director of the Kansas Water Office, fields questions during about the future of Kansas water policy during a public forum on the Kansas University campus.

Tracy Streeter, director of the Kansas Water Office, fields questions during about the future of Kansas water policy during a public forum on the Kansas University campus.

That was the charge they were given in October when Gov. Sam Brownback called for establishing a 50-year "vision" for the future of water in Kansas. They hope to have a final draft of the water plan by November.

But while the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer has been a major topic in those discussions, McClaskey and Streeter said eastern Kansas faces its own set of issues, including the rapid sedimentation of the state's 24 federal reservoirs like Clinton Lake.

Jerry deNoyelles, deputy director of the Kansas Biological Survey at KU said if nothing is done to prevent further sediment infill, all of those reservoirs will have lost 50-percent or more of their original volume by the end of the century. And dredging them out to restore their original volume would cost an estimated $13 billion at today's prices.

"I don't know that we'll be able to solve all of these reservoir issues, or the groundwater issues," deNoyelles said. "It has to begin with using less."


Chris Jeter 4 years, 1 month ago

Sure, there is no reason why we couldn't charge the farmers that use the water for the crops that end up on our tables and in our cars. You willing to off-set that cost in higher prices at the grocery store and gas pump yet again? Personally I'd rather not. Charging the farmers isn't going to reduce the water usage, it will only raise prices in my opinion.

Joe Blackford II 4 years, 1 month ago

"crops that end up on our tables" -> you must eat a LOT more field corn than I do, as it is my understanding that draining the Ogallala for center pivot irrigation of corn for feed lot cattle is the primary driver of depletion.

A recent CBS news segment on the higher prices on beef indicated 2 factors:

fewer #s of cattle brought to market, due to drought = decline in herd size

growing demand from the ever greater size of the middle class in China, India (?) & Brazil

Ethanol production based upon corn produced in W KS is unsustainable.

The notion that Sunflower Electric's Holcomb coal generation boondoggle (Kansas, home of the last dirty coal-fired plant built in the U.S., now there's something to be proud of) is lauded as not requiring more water than what is currently being used by farmers (what's that going to do to the price of field corn?).

As for dredging Kansas reservoirs. That silt is laden with heavy metals & nitrates. Which of us will step up and seek to use it on lawns, gardens & crop fields? AFAIK, the Corps of Engineers & KDWP&T still lease fields to farmers who till right up to the edge of all the tributaries of those reservoirs, rather than mitigate runoff of ag chemicals by the use of riparian buffers.

IMHO, Brownback's call for establishing a 50-year "vision" for the future of water in Kansas likely has more to do with this being an election year, than taking steps to conserve a natural resource.

As a student in Natural Resource Economics @ KSU in the 1970s, I was lectured that you can't put an economic value on a natural resource until you've marketed it = "crops that end up on our tables and in our cars."

Carolyn Simpson 4 years, 1 month ago

I think the people of eastern Kansas should stick with commenting on the reservoirs with which they are most familiar and dependent on and leave the issues of the aquifer to the the people of western Kansas who are most knowledgeable and affected by it. It is really an entirely different climate, geography, and economy in each side of the state, and generally the public does not have the knowledge to make intelligent comments outside of their region.

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