With the signing of Senate Bill 148, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has put in place a series of legislation designed to conserve the state's water supply and extend the life of the Ogallala Aquifer. Gov. Brownback has a personal commitment to the Ogallala effort and has made it a top priority for his administration.
"It is essential that we help protect, extend and conserve the life of the Ogallala Aquifer for future generations of Kansans, while also supporting today's western Kansas economy," Gov. Brownback said.
The Ogallala Aquifer is the main source of water in the western third of Kansas. Counties located above the Ogallala Aquifer account for roughly two thirds of the state's agricultural economic value. Without Ogallala water, significant portions of the region's agriculture and all of its related businesses could not be sustained, manufacturing could not continue, recreational opportunities would diminish and the towns in the area would cease to exist.
The water policy changes passed this session include:
* 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.
* House Bill 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.
* House Bill 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.
* 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.
* Senate Bill 148 makes clear the authority of a water right owner to divide that water right into two or more distinct water rights without losing priority.
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 attended that summit in Colby, which provided a forum for stakeholders to discuss their concerns, ideas and visions for the future. 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.
In addition, the Kansas Department of Agriculture and the Kansas Water Office were charged by the Governor to develop initiatives in cooperation with the KWA that would help create a balance between extending the life of the aquifer and providing the resources necessary to support that state's largest industry - agriculture.
"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 2012 water legislation package was a historic step towards creating water policy that benefits agriculture today and sustains the valuable water resources for future generations."
KWO Director Streeter said this process 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 process allowed local producers and communities to collectively decide their own future as it pertains to water."
In addition to SB 148, Governor recently signed 46 bills, bringing the total number of new laws this session to 160. He also has vetoed three bills and let two bills become law without his signature.