Water Issues Growing More Serious With Ongoing Drought

Water Issues Growing More Serious With Ongoing Drought

Junior water rights along eight rivers suspended to meet stream flow requirements; Ogallala decline escalates.

With 82 counties in Kansas declared drought disaster areas and the entire state in moderate to extreme drought, there is no topic more on the minds of farmers attending this year's 3i Show in Dodge City than water.

On Friday morning, Kansas Water Office director Tracy Streeter provided an update on the ongoing drought and state response to it.

The picture is grim, he said. The eastern part of the state has already hit serious minimum stream flow levels that have required the suspension of junior water rights on eight rivers.

Water Issues Growing More Serious With Ongoing Drought

"Those farmers are just shut down on irrigation," he said. "We're also in the situation of having to release water from federal reservoirs to maintain minimum stream flow. It's looking very serious."

The brutal drought of 2011 took a toll on the Ogalalla Aquifer in the western part of the state. The aquifer dropped 10 feet in most parts of the aquifer, Streeter said. Measurements are made at 1,300 wells in January of every year to monitor the decline in the aquifer.

Declines this year are expected to be equal to last year as extreme drought continues across much of western Kansas and producers to salvage what they can of crops.

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A change in Kansas water law, made last year following recommendations from the Governor's Task Force Advisory Panel on the Ogallala, allows producers to enter into a multi-year flex plan for water use.

"This change lets producers pump over a five-year period, so they can overuse in a drought year and cut back in a year with more rainfall," Streeter explained. The law requires producers entering the plan to reduce water use by 10% over their previous use. They can then multiply the annual use by five and spread the total use over five years.

Streeter also provided an update on Local Enhanced Management Areas, another program allowed new legislation. Within a groundwater district, irrigators can meet agree to reduce water use, submit the plan and have it approved by the chief engineer. One LEMA has already been formed in GMD #1 in northwestern Kansas.

Streeter also said two stakeholder meetings are planned for Aug. 22 in GMD#1 in Scott City and GMD#3 in Garden City. The Scott City meeting will convene at 9 a.m. and the Garden City meeting at 2 p.m. At those meetings, state officials will talk about the legal changes and stakeholders will have a chance to talk about how water management is working in their area and what might need to be changed.

In addition, Gov. Sam Brownback will conduct a conference on the Future of Water in Kansas this fall. That event is Oct. 30-31 in Manhattan.
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