Archive for Thursday, September 17, 2015

Kansas’ water conservation program draws shallow interest

September 17, 2015

— State officials with regulatory authority over Kansas' underground water resources are still looking for an individual or group willing to enter into a voluntary conservation program.

The purpose of legislation signed by Gov. Sam Brownback in April was to create a network of Water Conservation Areas that would restrain consumption, maintain agricultural production and help extend life of the Ogallala Aquifer. The program was hailed as central element of the administration's commitment to more efficient industrial use of water, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

Convincing water right holders to engage in Water Conservation Areas is critical in advancing Brownback's 50-year plan for managing the resource, according to Kansas Department of Agriculture secretary Jackie McClaskey.

"Agriculture is the largest industry in Kansas," she said. "In order for agriculture to continue being the economic driver in our state, we have to better conserve water resources."

Water users need to understand how Water Conservation Areas, which offer holders of water rights flexibility to negotiate the reduction target with the state Department of Agriculture, can be a part of their water management plans and how the new option is different than other water conservation tools, McClaskey said.

Under the Water Conservation Area model that was promoted by the agricultural department, participants would be able to create multi-year appropriations of water for irrigation, transfer allocations among enrolled water rights and shift water consumption to alternative purposes.

Ongoing negotiations over where to draw the conservation line in each Water Conservation Area are expected to result in the formation of those areas by the end of the year.

"We're really counting on neighbors to influence neighbors," McClaskey said. "We feel voluntary has potential. Flexibility means a lot to people."

Water rights owners or a group of owners with land qualifying for conservation are able to form a Water Conservation Area where the parcel has declining groundwater levels, evidence of preventable water waste or experience unreasonable deterioration of water quality.

Brownback also signed legislation aiming to extend the life of the Ogallala Aquifer in 2012.

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