Brownback signs laws to conserve Ogallala
By RACHAEL GRAY
Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law two bills Monday that he says are substantial steps forward in conserving water in the Ogallala Aquifer and ensuring a future for farmers in the state.
The governor signed the bills at Garden City High School in front of community members, senators, representatives and students.
Brownback signed House Bill 2451, which eliminates the state's "use it or lose it" water policy 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, he said.
Senate Bill 272 amends multi-year flex accounts to expand irrigators' capabilities and options so they can manage their crop water without increasing long-term water use under their water right, he said.
Discussions to come up with a plan to conserve water began last year in Colby at a summit on the Ogallala Aquifer.
Much of the High Plains region relies on the Ogallala for water, but the resource is being depleted due to widespread irrigation use in the High Plains states.
The Ogallala Aquifer, also known as the High Plains Aquifer, is a vast but shallow underground water table located beneath the Great Plains. It is one of the world's largest aquifers and covers an area that includes portions of eight states: Colorado, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.
Brownback said that in addition to these bills, he anticipates the passage of another bill that would promote local control.
The proposal includes supporting legislation to provide a process for proactive conservation plans, called Local Enhancement Management Area Plans. LEMAs call for mandatory reductions if supported by the Groundwater Management District, have corrective measures that address conservation needs, and are approved by the Chief Engineer.
Brownback urged Kansans Monday to talk with neighbors about conservation and consider crops that may not be as profitable, but use less water.
"We must save our water and conserve so we may extend the useful life of the Ogallala Aquifer," Brownback said. "Those of you with substantial water permits, I am now asking you to step up on behalf of your children and grandchildren. I ask you, if you have options, don't use the water. Save it for them.
"Talk to your neighbors. Offer to them that you'll use less water if they will so we can save the water in your area. Let's do this like Kansans, working together, each giving a little so we all have a brighter future. Without water, we have no future," he said.
Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Dale Rodman said the new laws will help grow a cornerstone of the state's economy: agriculture.
"Agriculture is key to the economic vitality of Kansas, and water is essential to agriculture production," Rodman said. "The bills signed today are an important step towards creating water policy that benefits agriculture today and sustains the valuable water resources for future generations."
Critics of the bills signed into law Monday have said the action does little to actually conserve water in the aquifer.
Brownback responded to those concerns, and said these first two bills are a "leap forward" in conservation.
He said he would ask critics of the bills to look at them as a package, along with the anticipated passing of the LEMA bill.
"These are substantial steps forward. I really think we can be leaders in the nation in conserving and extending the limited water that's in the Ogallala," he said in a separate interview with The Telegram.
Kansas Water Office Executive Director Tracy Streeter said the new laws are true examples of how when working together, Kansans can solve an issue.
"I encourage our water users and managers to make full use of the new tools provided," Streeter said. "The Kansas Water Office will continue to work with the Kansas Water Authority and Kansas stakeholders to identify and evaluate further policy considerations."
State Senate President Steve Morris, Senate Agriculture Chair Mark Taddiken, Senate Natural Resources Chair Ralph Ostmeyer, Rep. Reynaldo Mesa, Sen. Garrett Love, House Agriculture Chair Larry Powell and the Kansas Water Authority and the Ogallala Aquifer Advisory Committee Chair Gary Harshberger, as well as stakeholder groups, joined the governor for the bill signings.
Including the two bills signed Monday, Brownback has signed six bills into law in the 2012 legislative session, according to a release from the governor's office.