No challenge facing the State of Kansas is more pressing than the quality and quantity of its water, says former Governor Mike Hayden.
Hayden, current Secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, addressed the audience at the annual Kansas Association of Conservation Districts meeting in Wichita last week.
"Kansas always has been challenged. We've always dealt with too little water in the west and too much water in the east. These struggles are nothing new," he says.
But Kansas, he adds, has done more to address its water problems than most other states, implementing progressive laws and working to develop multi-state compacts with other states. Throughout the country, other states are just now enduring hardships that Kansas already has addressed.
"If you look around, there has been severe drought in the southeast U.S., with governors feuding across state lines," he says. "The situation has been caused by a lack of planning and more demand than supply."
As the Kansas Governor responsible for developing the state's first Water Plan in 1989, Hayden believes the progressive steps taken by the state in the first Water Plan have not kept pace with Kansans' needs.
In terms of funding the Plan, "we haven't kept up with the rate of inflation, yet the challenges are much greater now than they were then," he says.
Challenges such as the depleting Ogallala Aquifer, and silted-in reservoirs throughout the state are notable.
The Neosho River Basin is in the worst shape, says Hayden. The John Redmond Reservoir – the main body of water feeding the Neosho River – has had at least 50% of its capacity diminished by silted-in sediment. Complicating matters is that the Wolf Creek Nuclear Power Plant near Burlington uses a tremendous amount of water from the Neosho Basin.
"We are heading for a crisis real soon," he says.
Kansas, he adds, has a tremendous amount of work to do to prepare for the water battles of the future. It will take grassroots and legislative leadership, a thorough understanding of the water challenges facing Kansas and money, in order to effect change.
"There is only so much money to go around. Yet, it's a lot cheaper to keep the soil and nutrients on the land rather than in the state's streams and reservoirs," he explains.
With the state's population becoming increasingly urban, it is difficult to communicate why it is important to invest in these issues.
"The work is far from over. We need a new generation of leaders. Our quality of life is based on a good supply of water. None of us is in business without it," Hayden says.