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Kansas Water Office Releases 2022 Water Plan

By Jennifer M. Latzke 

 

(Farm Progress) – Drive east to west across Kansas, and you’ll see the full spectrum of water challenges in the state. We have sedimentation in our state’s reservoirs, extreme drought, dwindling aquifers and more. Many of these challenges, if left unchecked, can lead to severe, long-term consequences that would endanger the public health and the general welfare of Kansans.

“The drought conditions throughout the state drive home the importance of having a comprehensive plan,” said Connie Owen, Kansas Water Office director. “Water is the most valuable resources we have, and we must manage it strategically to ensure a safe and secure supply now and for the future.”

Road map

The State Water Resources Planning Act mandates a comprehensive, coordinated and continuous adaptive planning process, resulting in the Kansas Water Plan. The Kansas Water Plan, by law, must provide for the management, conservation and development of the water resources of the state. This 2022 Kansas Water Plan is the first comprehensive water plan released since 2009.

There are five guiding principles named in the plan — conserve and extend the High Plains Aquifer; secure, protect and restore our Kansas reservoirs; improve the state’s water quality; reduce our vulnerability to extreme events; and increase awareness of Kansas water resources.

High Plains Aquifer

Topping the water plan’s list is the High Plains Aquifer, which has three components in Kansas: the Ogallala Aquifer, the Great Bend Prairie Aquifer and the Equus Beds Aquifer. These underground water sources serve as the primary water supply for much of central Kansas and most of western Kansas. According to the water plan, of these three, the Ogallala is suffering the most severe depletion, with some areas already effectively dry in terms of economic feasibility.

“It is not an overstatement to say that the future of habitability in much of western Kansas is at stake; water users of all kinds will need to adopt practices using less groundwater if these populations and economies are to remain viable,” according to the plan’s authors.

More water is withdrawn from the High Plains Aquifer system than the system can supply. Even with the system closed to new appropriations, there are more permits approved than can be supplied. There are more than 35,000 wells with active water rights in Kansas, with more than 27,000 over the HPA, and 87% of those are used for irrigation, according to the Water Plan. Water levels over the Ogallala have dropped to less than 40% of the original saturated thickness left, and some areas have no more than 20 years of water remaining if pumping continues at current rates. Other parts in west-central Kansas have already reached the point of no return, according to the water plan, and irrigated land has now been converted to dryland crops or grazing.

According to the water plan, “An inherent complication is the fact that these withdrawals are authorized by approved permits which have matured into water rights. Water rights are real property rights, so the matter of achieving reduced groundwater use is not a simple one. There are a number of voluntary cost-share and/or incentive-based programs to persuade (mostly agricultural) users to use less water.”

The plan outlines current management approaches, including: Local Enhanced Management Areas; Water Conservation Areas; Intensive Groundwater Use Control Areas; Water Technology Farms to demonstrate new tools; the Playa Lakes Joint Venture to help recharge rates; and public-private partnerships to conserve, among others.

Among the recommended strategies, the plan proposes working with farmers, crop consultants, crop insurance, banking and property valuators to promote conservation of water — whether through different cropping strategies with less water-intensive crops, or encouraging soil health and carbon sequestration practices and partnerships.

Reservoirs

More than two-thirds of the state’s population relies on Kansas reservoirs for their water supply. Those reservoirs also provide recreation opportunities, resulting in millions of dollars of economic benefits to communities. But, we’re losing storage capacity to sedimentation in those reservoirs. And harmful algal bloom events, like the toxic blue-green algae, can restrict the use of reservoirs, too.

The plan calls for innovative in-lake sediment management measures, including supporting watershed conservation practices like soil health initiatives, streambank stabilization, and riparian corridor restoration to keep sedimentation out. It also calls for working with federal partners to cost-share the funding of these and other efforts.

Input

The Kansas Water Plan is created by the Kansas Water Office with input from partner agencies and 14 Regional Advisory Committees. Details on each of the RACs and their specific concerns can be found in the 261-page water plan.

The finalization of the plan leads into the implementation phase, where the Kansas Water Office will work with other state agencies and Regional Advisory Committees across the state to address the principles outlined in the KWP. Implementation is supported by the State Water Plan Fund, a statutory mechanism created to pay for the projects and programs identified in the KWP. This year, two statutory transfers into the fund were fully provided for the first time since 2008.

Download the full 2022 Kansas Water Plan.

Source: Kansas Water Office contributed to this article.

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