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1/23/2014

Foley speaks about long-term water plan at local Farm and Ranch Show.

Foley speaks about long-term water plan at local Farm and Ranch Show.

By ANGIE HAFLICH

ahaflich@gctelegrm.com

Because agriculture is the No. 1 one industry in Kansas, water is closely linked to the Kansas economy. That means there is an immediate need to address its future in the state.

That is what Greg Foley, executive director with the Kansas Department of Agriculture's division of conservation, told a crowd Thursday during the Garden City Farm and Ranch Show.

Foley pointed out that the link between the state's economy and water prompted Gov. Sam Brownback to issue a call to action regarding the situation.

"Water is a finite resource and, without any further planning or action, we will no longer be able to meet those needs, and we will not be able to have economic growth or stability in our state 50 years down the road," Foley said.

In 50 years, the Ogallala Aquifer will be 70 percent depleted, as it is declining at a faster rate than it is recharging, Foley said, adding, "It's, in essence, water in the bathtub, and we're looking to say how many years of life do we have?"

According to a handout Foley provided, irrigated cropland in the Ogallala region has $5 billion in value; the Ogallala was responsible for $1.75 billion in corn production and $2 billion in beef production. Sixty percent of electric production in Kansas — at a value of $1.96 billion — also relies on the state's reservoirs.

According to the High Plains Water District website, hpwd.com, the Ogallala Aquifer is one of the largest systems in the world. It stretches across all or portions of eight states running generally from north to south, including South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas. It underlies about 174,000 square miles.

Other areas of the state are expected to encounter different types of issues. For this reason, Gov. Brownback has charged his administration, including the Kansas Water Office, the Kansas Department of Agriculture, Kansas Water Authority, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, to help develop a long-term vision for managing water resources in Kansas.

"The governor announced this particular vision at the Water and the Future of Kansas conference last October, and he gave us a year to go get this input and then start crafting drafts. To this point, we've met with about 120 different groups and about 2,400 people and had many varied responses," Foley said.

A question that has arisen repeatedly is the status of Kansas' existing water plan.

"That still exists," Foley said. "There are other things that have to continue to be addressed, whether it's water quality under the safe drinking water act, the clean water act, the different chapters of the current Kansas water plan, whether its catastrophic events, water quality, water quantity, recreation, or any of the above — those are going to continue to be updated on the five-year frequency. But this will be a supplemental chapter, a clear vision."

The impetus behind the development of the plan is to combine regional efforts.

"The 50-year vision will align the priority of the growing Kansas economy and the strategies and the actions necessary to ensure an adequate water supply for that future growth. We just need vision, and our charge and responsibility is to put all these different regional efforts together," he said, asking for input from both individuals and groups. "What do you believe the vision should be, what our goals should be and what are the action plans to accomplish those ideas?"

The Sixth Annual Garden City Farm and Ranch Show is sponsored by the Mid America Ag Network, through its parent company, Steckline Communications.

Others who spoke at the event on Thursday included Gordon Stucky of the American Angus Association and Domenic Varricchio, commodities broker at Schwieterman, Inc., who spoke about commodities, prices and fluctuations in the market.

Today, Rex Friesen with the Cotton Growers Association, Jeff Sternberger and Jody Wacker with the Kansas Livestock Association and senate candidate Milton Wolf will speak.

On Saturday the various speakers will be from Kansas Soybeans, Kansas Wheat, Kansas Agri Women and Kansas Agri Tourism.

"On Saturday, we're also giving away a $10,000 hot tub from Stone Creek Spas and $1,000 Goodwin Industries smoker," Seth Stahlheber, general manager at the Mid-America Ag Network, said. There will be daily door prizes as well. "We've also got live music throughout the weekend from Rusty Rierson."

Rierson is a country artist from Leon, who is signed with Red Dirt Music Co. out of Nashville, Tenn.

The Farm and Ranch show also showcases car dealers, sprayers, seed companies, heavy equipment and other businesses. It kicked off Thursday at the at the Finney County Exhibition Building and continues from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

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