Kansas Water Office Assistant Director Earl Lewis, far left, is joined by KWO Chief of Planning and Policy Susan Metzger, Kansas Agriculture Secretary Jackie McClaskey, Lane Letourneau, water appropriation program manager for the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s Division of Water Resources, Greg Foley, executive director of KDA’s Division of Conservation, and KWO Director Tracy Streeter Tuesday morning to answer questions from the audience at a stop on the group’s Water Vision Tour. L&T photos/Robert Pierce
By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
In October 2013, Governor Sam Brownback issued a call to action for his administration to develop a 50-year vision for the future of water in Kansas.
“Water and the Kansas economy are directly linked,” he said. “Water is a finite resource, and without future planning and action, we will no longer be able to meet our state’s current needs, let alone growth.”
Tuesday morning, officials from the Kansas Water Office and the Kansas Department of Agriculture were in Liberal at the Seward County Activity Center to present a “preliminary discussion draft” of the vision.
The meeting was the third stop of 12 the group plans to make this week as part of a “Water Vision Tour.”
Kansas Water Office Director Tracy Streeter said with dry conditions persisting across the state, water has been on everyone’s mind. Like Brownback, he agreed that the water and the state’s economy must be linked in a planning process.
Streeter said because Kansas’s climate is historically dry, adaptations have been made for years, and technology has been taken advantage of to conserve as much water as possible.
“Even that said, with the projections we see from the water well measurements, the path we’re on now, we’ll be 70 percent depleted in 50 years,” he said.
Kansas Agriculture Secretary Jackie McClaskey said the draft presented to locals Tuesday was put together in such a way to force action.
“The goals are designed to be both statewide in nature as well as getting more specific,” she said. “We want them to be something that is measureable, so we can look back in 20 and 30 and 50 years and say what actually occurred because of this effort.”
McClaskey emphasized the draft was preliminary, and she said the final plan will include action items and milestones Kansans can hold themselves accountable for.
The ag secretary added she and other officials are not looking for a single solution that fits the entire state.
“We can’t do that,” she said. “Our state is too different from corner to corner, so we want to look at examples of statewide and regional goals that really allow us to determine where we want to be and what that looks like.”
Susan Metzger, chief of planning and policy for the KWO, said much has been done in recent years to begin the process of conserving Kansas water.
“There’s been so many activities put in place, especially in the past 15 to 20 years, that are already capturing strong water conservation practices from changes from flood irrigation to drop nozzle and even new fine tuning improvements in drop nozzle irrigation,” she said. “We want to make sure that whatever practices and potential action items that we recommend going forward, make sure that we don’t unintentionally penalize those folks that have already been doing a good job at conserving our water resources.”
The draft presented Tuesday suggested reducing statewide water consumption by 20 percent by 2065 and also by 20 percent per capita by 2035. Metzger said, though, different numbers need to be used in different parts of the state.
“A blanket conservation number across the state may not make sense,” she said. “The idea of developing that goal at a very localized level makes a lot more sense to us. That’s what we hope to hear and to support.”
Lane Letourneau, water appropriation program manager for KDA’s Division of Water Resources, spoke about the legal issues between Kansas and its neighboring states, Nebraska and Colorado, which he said have been ongoing for years. He suggested a solution to the battle over water rights.
“Maybe we can cooperate with the Ogallala states and get together and maybe have the same type of plans in the Ogallala and the Missouri River,” he said.
Letourneau said the Missouri is an underutilized resource for Kansas. He added increasing the regionalization of water supplies may also improve the long-term reliability of the supply.
“When we went through the drought the last couple of years, we had some small cities that were extremely vulnerable,” he said. “They had one source. We’re looking at tying those small cities together so they have a backup supply if they get in trouble.”
Greg Foley, executive director of KDA’s Division of Conservation, said new innovative technology is not necessarily needed to help with efforts to save water.
“We want to know how all the different tools that are out there work in our particular area,” he said of what the group has heard in previous meetings. “We want to see it more in every county or in this particular soil type. We want to see it further reaching.”
KWO Assistant Director Earl Lewis said exploring undeveloped lakesides in the state for a potential water supply is something that needs to be looked at.
“We want to make sure where all those are at,” he said. “We’ve done a good job of helping folks use those sites if possible.”
Lewis said in some ways, the water vision is a high level study, and the KWO and KDA want to take the study back to the Kansas Legislature and present the research and head to the next step.
Streeter said some examples of water conservation and management are already taking place in Kansas, so the wheel will not have to be reinvented.
“We want to showcase those so we can get back to that education theme so we can help spread the word and get the information out on what we’ve tried and learned and what’s successful and what’s not,” he said. “We think this document can help share that.”
Following this week’s tour, Streeter said another tour will likely take place before updating the Kansas Water Authority on the process later this summer.
“We will see another draft come out in the fall at some point,” he said. “It’ll be in advance of the November meeting of the governor’s water conference in Manhattan. We hope to unveil the final draft at the water conference.”
Streeter said Tuesday was just one step in the process of developing a water vision for the state.
“We’re ready to pack our bags and come back out and have more conversations with the organizations later this summer,” he said.