Surrounded by Colby Community College students, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback held a ceremonial signing of a bill today designed to conserve the state's water supply and extend the life of the Ogallala Aquifer.
Senate Bill 310 establishes a process through groundwater management districts (GMDs) that allows local communities of producers to collectively decide their future by initiating the implementation of conservation plans that meet their local goals.
Governor Brownback encouraged GMDs to begin identifying places where "local enhanced management areas" (LEMAs) may be a good fit.
"We must conserve our water so we can extend the useful life of the Ogallala Aquifer," Brownback said. "This tool allows Kansans to join together and offer up ideas that work on the local level. It allows them to work together on behalf of their children and grandchildren to provide solutions that will save water for the next generation."
Kansas Water Office Director Tracy Streeter, Groundwater Management District Four Manager Wayne Bossert, Kansas Department of Agriculture Division of Water Resources Chief Engineer Dave Barfield as well as legislators and stakeholder groups joined the Governor for the bill signing.
"The Local Enhanced Management Areas is an option that Kansans asked for and we already have a Groundwater Management District moving forward with a LEMA proposal," Kansas Department of Agriculture Division of Water Resources Chief Engineer David Barfield said.
Work on reforming the state's water laws began a year ago when the Brownback administration started planning the Ogallala Aquifer Water Summit. Hundreds of Kansans concerned about the future of the state's water supply and the future of their children and grandchildren attended that summit in Colby. From there, the Ogallala Aquifer Advisory Committee reviewed short and long term water goals. Then the Kansas Water Authority developed the water reform legislative agenda presented to the Kansas Legislature for its consideration.
"Agriculture is key to the economic vitality of Kansas, and water is essential to agriculture production," Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Rodman said. "The Governor's 2011 water legislation package was an important step towards creating water policy that benefits agriculture today and sustains the valuable water resources for future generations."
KWO Director Streeter said this law is a true example of how when Kansans work together, they can find solutions.
"This legislation proves the stakeholder input process really does work," Director Streeter said. "The Kansas Water Office will continue to work with the Kansas Water Authority and the Ogallala Aquifer Advisory Committee to identify and evaluate further policy considerations."
Governor Brownback has signed four other water conservation bills in law this session:
House Bill 2451 eliminates the state's "use it or lose it" water policy in areas closed to new water right appropriations and gives landowners incentive to conserve water because they won't feel that they must use their maximum amount of water when they don't need to just so they don't lose water rights.
Senate Bill 272 amends multi-year flex accounts to expand irrigators' capabilities and options so they can manage their crop water over a 5-year period without increasing long-term water use under their water right.
HB 2516 amends the state's water banking program. The changes provide for more permanence in water banks and allow additional water banks to be developed where local producers find it to be a tool that will help them in conserving water and protecting the economy. A water bank allows the short term lease (up to 10 years) of water rights at a price set by the seller and agreed to by the buyer.
HB 2517 extends the sunset to make the Water Transition Assistance Program (WTAP) by 10 years to the year 2022 and makes other improvements to the program. The purpose of this voluntary, incentive-based water right retirement program is to provide a structured mechanism for the permanent dismissal of irrigation water rights and the reduction of consumptive groundwater use in focused, over-appropriated areas.