DUANE WEST: Let Canada quench our thirst


"The rain is gently falling on this dry and thirsty land. We hear the roll of thunder, feel the touch of God's own hand. This nurture from the heavens is welcomed by the earth, and our sad and stressful faces, now are showing mirth!"

That's a stanza from one of the songs I wrote several years ago for my musical "Dream Your Dreams: The Buffalo Jones Story." After the world premiere here three years ago, I've spent many hours these last 12 months re-writing a One Man Show of the same name and hope to premiere it here in the not too distant future.

Several folks have mentioned the long absence of this column, and that, along with a variety of other things, is the only excuse or reason I can proffer.

The recent rains certainly improved most everyone's outlook and there are now many more smiles than frowns. It still can rain out this way, even though we know we need much more moisture to just get us closer to our long-time average and make a dent in our ongoing drought.

The timing of the rains was not a surprise to me, since I have followed the weather prognostications of one Elihu Allman, who lived over in the 10th or 11th Street area years ago. Any time we had a fog, he claimed moisture would follow in 90 days. Sure enough, the last of February produced fog, and our "rainy spell" commenced almost exactly three months later.

My friend, Steve Heitschmidt, says we had early morning fog during the week following Memorial Day. Since I try not to stir around that early, I will take his word for that and have accordingly marked our calendar for rain the last week of August. If you are looking forward to the Tumbleweed Festival, dig out your umbrella and rain gear! The moisture that shows up then will make the festival even more joyous than ever and add to the celebration!

Recently, the Kansas Water Authority met here and talked about the many aspects of water and what effect the drought and heavy usage is having on the various entities pumping from the Ogallala Aquifer. That group is charged with determining and prioritizing our problems and crafting solutions for now and future generations.

One fascinating proposal that has floated around lately is to take water from the Missouri River at the northeast corner of Kansas and pumping it out this way. This proposal is based on a 1982 Corps of Engineers High Plains Study for water transfer. Jason Norquest, the assistant manager of the Southwest Kansas Groundwater Management District No. 3, graciously furnished me with a copy of this document, explaining the concept, along with providing additional information about the great underground lake — the Ogallala¬­ — that underlies much of western Kansas and some additional seven states. Mike Meyer, water commissioner and head of the Garden City Field Office of the Division of Water Resources, was also quite helpful in furthering my knowledge on this important topic.

After much thought, I would doubt that water could be taken from the Missouri for such a purpose due to downstream users' objections. Such wrangling would go on for years, while the depletion of our groundwater continues at an increasing rate.

How about this idea: since Canada wants the Keystone Pipeline to take their crude oil to Texas refineries for subsequent transport to overseas markets, why not exchange that pipeline permit for Canadian water from Lake Winnipeg and Lake Manitoba, to be sent to Kansas via the necessary pipelines located in the rights of ways for the oil pipeline?

Winnipeg is only about 125 miles from the U.S. border, and the two lakes mentioned are absolutely huge. They can readily send us all the water we would need without hurting their country or economy. It would boost us as much as the pipeline will boost them.

The Keystone will go through Kansas north of Salina. That city could be the southern terminal, with the water being pumped west in one or more pipelines along the ridgelines between the Smoky and the Arkansas and the Saline, Solomon and southern fork of the Republican River. North-south T-trunk lines on the west ends of those lines would divert the water to the river basins for the maximum aquifer recharge.

But time is of the essence, since the Canadians are gunching to get started on their line. Our elected officials, both in Topeka and Washington, should get busy and get commitments for the Canadian water and transmittal pipeline NOW before the Keystone Permit is issued.

Duane West, a longtime resident and former mayor of Garden City, is a member of The Telegram board of contributing writers.

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