As reported February 11, the 283 page “Mega Water” bill, HB 2686, is out. See the following article for my summary of its provisions at: https://kwrconsulting.com/water-legislation/overview-of-hb-2686-the-mega-water-bill/. For a longer read, see the Revisor’s 7 page summary of the bill at http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/committees/ctte_h_water_1/misc_documents/download_testimony/ctte_h_water_1_20220214_01_testimony.html.
In this article, I will seek to briefly summarize its two days of hearings and two days of committee discussions, and talk about the next step of the bill’s consideration next week.
Overview of the bill as written
In summary, as written, the bill would:
1) Create a new Kansas Department of Water and Environment (KDWE), combining the Kansas Dept. of Agriculture’s Division of Water Resources (DWR) and Division of Conservation (DOC); the Division of Environment from KDHE; and the Kansas Water Office. All of the duties, authorities, officers and employees of each would remain pretty much unchanged, just in this new Department.
2) Increase funding for water projects via two sources: first, an increase the current water protection fees paid by municipal, industrial, and stockwater uses, increasing them from the current $0.03/1000 gallons to $0.05/1000 gallons, and second, by imposing a new annual water right fee of up to $250 on all water right holders not paying the water protection fee.
3) Make significant changes to Groundwater Management Districts (GMDs) including allowing any eligible voter to be a Board member; changing Board member elections to primary and general elections; requiring GMDs to make annual reports to the Legislature on their finances and actions; requiring GMDs to identify areas of concern by 1/1/2024; to conduct outreach to those areas and to develop plans to address the concerns by 1/1/2026; and where GMDs fail to develop such plans, the bill authorizes DWR’s Chief Engineer to initiate IGUCA hearings with the goal to reduce the rate of aquifer decline by 50%.
4) Misc. changes with respect to dam safety and stream obstructions including more enforcement authority. The House Committee on Water’s Chairman, Rep. Ron Highland stated his purpose in all of this: to increase the visibility of water issues critical to state’s future; to increase funding; and to improve coordination and accountability of various parts of government in water.
Hearings on HB 2628
After two days of briefing of the committee on the bill by the Revisor and Chairman, the Committee held two days of hearings, the first for proponents and the second by opponents.
In short, proponents were mostly municipal and environmental interest who agreed with the Chairman’s principle reasoning above. Proponents included: City of Wichita; Alynn Lockner; Burke Griggs of Washburn Law School; Water District No 1 of Johnson County; Friends of the Kaw; Kansas Farmer Union; the Climate + Energy Project; City of Hutchinson; the Regional Economic Area Partnership (REAP) of South Central Kansas; Kay Heley; Kansas Municipal Utilities; Lucas Bessire; Rep. Blex; Nature Conservancy; Sarah Hill-Nelson of the Bowersock Mill & Power Co; William Bradley; and the Kansas Sierra Club.
In short, opponents were principally GMDs and agricultural interests who opposed one or more of the bill’s provisions opposing the GMD electoral provisions, more fees, and removing DWR and DOC out of the Dept. of Agriculture. Opponents included GMD 5, the Kansas Livestock Association; the Kansas Agricultural Alliance; B. Beckman; Kansas Corn; GMD 4; the Kansas Association of Conservation Districts; the Kansas Water Congress; the Kansas Farm Bureau; Water PACK; Southwest Kansas Irrigators; GMD 3; R. Hayzlett; S. Beckman; GMD 2; and T. Jaeger.
There were also three neutral testifiers who offered support with specific, generally narrow recommendation. These included the Kansa Biological Survey; the Kansas Society of Professional Engineers; and City of Garden City.
All testimony is on the Committee’s page or on my page at https://kwrconsulting.com/blog/hcow2022/, which includes links to the videos of the committee’s hearings as well, near the bottom of the first table.
See also the Kansas Reflector article at: https://kansasreflector.com/2022/02/20/we-cant-wait-15-years-legislative-committee-works-to-overhaul-kansas-water-policy/.
On Friday, 2/11 and Monday, 2/14, the Committee had two days of committee discussions.
After discussion on the GMD provisions, there seems a consensus to remove most of the GMD provisions, except to require reporting on finances and what they have done, are doing, and plan to do on water conservation efforts. In addition, the committee plans to ask for an interim committee to consider the GMD matters more fully and to ask for a post-audit of the GMDs: their Boards composition, voting for Board members, and what GMDs are doing to fulfill their statutory purpose.
It is unclear what will happen with the proposed fees. There was discussion on various amendments on agency restructuring but it is also not clear what the committee will do with these provisions.
The Committee to “work” the bill starting March 1
As the bill is “blessed”, it is not subject to the regular legislative deadlines, e.g. last week’s “turn around” deadline where a bill must be through the chamber of origin. So, the Chair decided to work the bill this coming week, starting on Tuesday, March 1.
From the committee discussion, a number of amendments will be considered, one in turn, and then the final bill we be acted upon, to determine if it will pass out of the committee favorably for the full House to consider.
Stay tuned. I will plan to do my next article after the Committee’s action. I will also do updates on my Twitter account: @kwrconsulting and on my Facebook page @kwrconsultingllc.