Kansas officials this month honored several for their measures to conserve, reuse or adopt better practices to help ensure the future availability of the state's water resources.

"Be the Vision" award recipients were honored during the sixth annual Governor's Water Conference held Nov. 8 and 9 in Manhattan.

Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer was on hand to help with the award presentation.

"There are many individuals, cities and industries taking extraordinary measures to conserve, reuse or adopt better practices to help ensure the future of our state's water resources," said Tracy Streeter, director of the Kansas Water Office. "'Be the Vision' recognizes these Kansans for demonstrating the strategies included in the Vision, who believe in doing more and leading by example."

This year's recipients included:

• Dwane Roth family — Dwane Roth is a third-generation farmer near Holcomb who operates one of the three original Water Technology Farms and strongly believes in the technology and conservation happening on his farm. He has hosted multiple field and demonstration days, giving the hundreds of area producers and others who have attended opportunities to be exposed to new irrigation technologies that can be used as tools to make more efficient use of the area's declining water supplies.

"I'll be honest, when I first heard about soil moisture probes, I was extremely skeptical and didn't believe we could truly make an impact to the declining Ogallala," said Roth. "But there is no denying these techniques have dramatically influenced my operating decisions and my outlook on the future water supply in this area. Now we are able to efficiently use fewer inputs, while maintaining or increasing production and profits. The results have never been so clear."

This year his tech farm produced 241 bushels an acre using 5.75 inches of water. Neighboring farms have two circles about a half mile from the tech farm. One of those fields produced 233 bushels an acre on 14.12 inches and the other produced 222 bushels an acre on 13.5 inches of water.

In the fall of 2016, Roth started meeting with a group of area producers and those talks began forming a larger water conservation project, as some of the areas have seen water-level declines of over 70 feet in the last 10 years. The talks progressed and now the Kearny Finney Local Enhanced Management Area proposal has been receiving public input and evaluating various water conservation ideas to address the depletion of the aquifer in their area.

• Wichita County Water Conservation Area — Recognizing that the social and economic vitality of the Wichita County community is dependent upon their water supply, a group of community members joined together in early 2016 to develop a plan for county-wide water conservation in Wichita County. They recognized the need for a facilitator, and after many months of effectively communicating and working together, they successfully submitted their WCA plan to the Division of Water Resources chief engineer. The management plan begins with a 29-percent reduction and ramps up every seven years, eventually calling for a 50-percent reduction in average water use by 2038.

"The management plan calls for voluntary enrollment via consent agreement with individual water users establishing conservation levels based upon the groundwater modeling projections provided by Kansas Geological Survey," said Matt Long, WCA producer and committee member. "Information and education is a key component of this plan. We also worked to develop our own penalties for non-compliance, in addition to overseeing the WCA."

At present, 13 consent agreements and orders have been approved by the chief engineer with three more in the process of being completed. These agreements are projected to save more than 10,000 acre feet of water on 7,000 acres of irrigated land in Wichita County.

Seeing the huge importance water conservation played in her own family's operation and her father's dedication to ensuring water for the future, Grace Roth developed her FFA Supervised Agricultural Experience on water advocacy. She accepted the opportunity to present at the Ag Ed Symposium about her SAE with the goal to recruit more FFA members to the project.

• City of Wichita — Wichita's stormwater staff recognized their program could be improved by working with watershed basins upstream from Wichita instead of only onsite streambank stabilization, thus giving the city better overall control of pollutants discharged into surface waters.

"To date, 41 developments within the city of Wichita have enrolled in the program. Normally property owners would have to install expensive separators to remove sediment and trash from stormwater discharge. Instead, offsite BMPs (best management practices) were implemented and property owners were able to save about $960,000 avoiding the expense of those separators," said Wichita Public Works & Utilities Director Alan King. "This has provided a great benefit not only for us and the quality of our surface water but it's also a win-win for developers as it is convenient and a less expensive option for them."

This has also resulted in improved water quality in the Little Arkansas River and priority streams, as the city is working with farmers to convert conventionally farmed fields to no-till acreage.

• The Lower Smoky Access District — In 2006, drought took its toll on the Kanopolis Lake area, and water supply was dramatically affected. To ensure water supply needs could be met, stakeholders and the city of Salina worked with the state to form the Lower Smoky Hill River Irrigation District.

"This provides the opportunity for surface water users along the Smoky Hill River and below Kanopolis Lake to obtain long-term water storage in Kanopolis to back up their water rights when natural flows do not meet their needs," said Martha Tasker, with the city of Salina. "This past year we have seen reservoir release changes to meet target flows, which are a more efficient use of available water than prior operations."

After months of collaborating with Dr. Hock at K-State and the Kansas Department of Agriculture, the Kansas Youth Water Advocates Conference was held this past summer.

The Governor's Conference on the Future of Water in Kansas is hosted by the Kansas Water Office, Kansas Water Resource Institute/K-State and the Kansas Geological Survey/KU. Major sponsors of the event include Black & Veatch, Burns & McDonnell and Great Lakes Dredge & Dock.