Drought news: Kansas Governor Brownback wants to modify state water law abandonment provisions to help decrease depletions from the Ogallala (High Plains) aquifer


From the Ag Journal (Candace Krebs):

“The main recharge to the Ogallala in the Southern Plains are the small playa basins that dot the landscape,” [Carmon McCain, who handles information and education for the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District in Lubbock, Texas] said. “When you don’t get rain, you don’t have any water in those basins going into the aquifer.”[…]

Average annual recharge rate for the aquifer is half an inch per year, but the depth of withdrawal in some areas is many times that. In the Texas Panhandle, the water table was drawn down one and a half feet in 2009-2010 but only one 500th of a foot in 2010-2011, when hurricanes brought monsoon-like summer rains to the region. In western Kansas, the rate of decline had been diminishing since the 1960s, but that changed after 2000, when the latest drought cycle hit, and farmers began pumping more water. In southwest Kansas, where the drought has been particularly pronounced, well tests in January showed the water level in some parts of the aquifer had dropped more than 5 feet in the last year, according to the Kansas Geological Survey at the University of Kansas.

Around 400 geologists, water managers, ag producers and other stakeholders attended last week’s special Governor’s Economic Summit on the future of the Ogallala, hosted by Gov. Sam Brownback and held in conjunction with the annual Kansas Water Congress. The primary topic of discussion was how to preserve the aquifer without sacrificing economic growth…

One of Gov. Brownback’s priorities is reforming the state’s so-called “use it or lose it” water requirement that allows water rights to lapse if they go unused over a certain period of time, which many now view as a disincentive for conservation.

[Wayne Bossert’s, longtime manager for Kansas’ Groundwater Management District No. 4 in Colby], priority is making it easier to enforce water use restrictions in high priority areas where groundwater declines are most dramatic. Currently, the process of designating “intensive use control areas” is hard to implement, and he wants to see laws changed to make the system more “user friendly.”

At the summit, municipalities expressed concerns about how to get access to affordable water rights. “It’s problematic for them,” Bossert said. “But it’s supply and demand at the most fundamental level.”[…]

In Texas, concerns about the future of the aquifer prompted the High Plains district in Lubbock to adopt new rules recently aimed at cutting back the rate of depletion. “We know the Ogallala is a mined resource,” McCain concedes. “It’s been used continuously since the 1930s. What we are doing is trying to extend the life of the Ogallala for another 50 years.” The new rule amendments establish the first-ever production limit for groundwater pumping within the 16-county High Plains Water District service area. That level will drop in successive years, to eventually reach a level of 1.25 acre-feet, or 15 inches per year, in 2016. The district is also requiring annual reports on water use and a meter on every well beginning in 2012…

“Efficiency and conservation are not the same thing,” [Jim Conkwright, the district’s general manager] asserts. “Efficiency might allow you to irrigate more acres, but you might still be using the same amount of water.”

More Ogallala aquifer coverage here and here.

2 thoughts on “Drought news: Kansas Governor Brownback wants to modify state water law abandonment provisions to help decrease depletions from the Ogallala (High Plains) aquifer

  1. All water from aquifers especially Ogallala should be reserved for domestic drinking supply, farming irrigation for food and livestock. Any farming for ultimate fuel creation should be stopped immediately!. example (growing millions of acres of corn milo etc to distill ethanol or any other non food item.)

    1. Richard,

      Thanks for commenting. That would set water law on its head. I’m not sure there is the political will to limit pumping to food only.

      John Orr

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