The Kansas Water Office held the fifth installment of its statewide “Water Talk Series” in Garden City on Tuesday to educate local producers and stakeholders on future water supplies and tools intended to encourage reduced water use.
The workshop, with roughly 100 attendees, included presentations by Ted Boersma, chairman of the Upper Arkansas Regional Advisory Committee (UARAC); Shawn Beach, an economist for the USDA Risk Management Agency; Brownie Wilson, water data manager for the Kansas Geological Survey; and Bill Golden, a professor at Kansas State University specializing in natural resources economics.
The talk covered topics including regional water conservation goals and action plans, limited irrigation crop insurance, the status of area groundwater and the economics of conservation.
Two panels dedicated to farm water technology and water conservation tools also were held.
“We’ve had a lot of discussions involved in how to meet our goals, and the biggest thing we came up with is that as farmers we tend to bow up against regulation,” Boersma said, adding that farmers generally respond well to incentivized programs, even if they entail scaling back the usage of resources such as water.
The UARAC’s first stated goal is to extend the usable lifetime of the Ogallala Aquifer for at least 25 years by promoting multiple Local Enhanced Management Areas (LEMAs), Water Conservation Areas (WCAs) and other incentive-based programs.
The second stated goal is to re-establish and maintain flows along the Upper Arkansas River by 2020 through means including but not limited to water conservation efforts along the river in Finney, Gray and Ford counties.
Golden said he spends the “vast majority of his time” looking at water usage in western Kansas to determine the costs of transitioning from irrigated production to dryland production and its impact on farmers and rural economies.
“The big question that I get is: What’s going to happen when we reduce groundwater use?” he said. He went on to demonstrate through data that producers could eventually use less water without cutting revenue.
“The goal of this is to try to maximize produce revenue with declining water,” he said. “As we get producer revenue generated, then we go back in hindsight and we ask ourselves: Ok, what does this do to the rural economy if this plays out?”
He concluded by looking at different sample areas that conservation benefits both producers and the rural community, adding that water use could potentially be reduced by 20 percent without a drop in revenue.
Golden added that models demonstrating that a drop in water usage would correlate with a drop in revenue are based on the assumption that producers utilize their water with 90 to 95 percent efficiency, meaning all of that water contributed directly to their yield.
“Maybe we’re only 70 percent efficient, and therefore instead of following this curve down and losing income, what we’re seeing happen is we’re starting out at a low efficiency and we’re jumping to a higher efficiency curve. That would explain why we’re seeing water use reductions and no profit reductions,” he said.
Golden gave an example where in 2001 in Finney County some producers were producing 225 bushels on 15 inches of water, and in the same area producers were generating 225 bushels on 25 inches.
“Now guys, if this is right, we can reduce water use,” Golden said. “I’m not going to say these guys are inefficient. This is just an example. But if you believe this is going on, then water use reduction should not lead to profit reduction. I believe we can reduce water use 20 percent and not see a reduction in profits.”
He added that reductions in water use of up to 30 percent could become possible.
Those interested in following the conversation further and learning more about programs and developing technologies can attend the next “Water Talk Series” meeting in Ulysses at 9 a.m. Feb. 21 at the Grant County Civic Center, 1000 W. Patterson Ave.