Gov. Sam Brownback has issued a challenge to stakeholders in the future of Kansas water: Come up with a comprehensive 50-year Vision for Kansas water that meets the state's needs now and in the future and do it by this time next year.
On Oct. 24 and 25, more than 500 people, representing all sectors of the Kansas economy and all kinds of water users gathered in Manhattan for the second Governor's Conference on the Future of Water in Kansas.
Brownback addressed the group on Thursday morning and issued the challenge to come up with a plan that addresses present and future needs of municipalities, agriculture, industry and recreation.
Water and economy directly linked, Brownback said
"We have been reminded of the importance of water with another year of extreme drought across the state," Brownback said in his opening remarks. "It is now beginning to ease in the eastern part of the state, but continues to persist in the west. 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 allow for growth."
He called on his administration, including the Kansas Water office, Kansas Department of Agriculture, Kansas Water Authority and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and Wildlife Parks and Tourism to led the effort and called on his Council of Economic Advisors to be part of the effort as well.
He said the priorities must include addressing both the groundwater decline in the Ogallala Aquifer as well as securing, protecting and restoring water storage in the state's 26 federal reservoirs, some of which have seen alarming rates of sedimentation.
Continuing on the current path is not acceptable, said Gary Harshberger, chairman of the Kansas Water Authority. Doing nothing will get us to an almost 70% depletion of the Ogallala and the loss of more than half of reservoir storage in some areas in 20 years, he said.
Kansas Farmer began a series of articles in October to address a variety of water issues and options for Kansas. That series will continue in November and December.