After the 2022 legislative session’s mega-water bill went nowhere, the chair of the House Committee on Water, retiring Rep. Ron Highland, requested a 2 two-day interim committee on water issues to continue discussions. Below are a few highlights from these hearings, held on August 29-30 in Topeka, called the “Special Committee on Water”, composed of both Senators and House members and links to documents and presentations.
The short summary:
As the Special Committee had new members from the Senate and House, the two days were principally a primer for new members, comprised of key briefings from the state water agencies dealing with water issues. The “committee discussions” held after these briefings on the second day were very short and disappointing as they did little to move forward the Legislature’s discussion of these critical water issues.
The rest of this article is mostly an index and links to the presentations made to the committee, with a few concluding comments on the Legislature’s 2021-22 work. For anyone wanting a primer on the major water agencies dealing with water in Kansas, the responsibilities, and current happenings, this is a good place to start. There are links to the YouTube videos of the sessions as well as the presentations. I have indicated the time stamp on the YouTube video when each presentation starts.
For those interested in the Ogallala aquifer, DWR’s presentation and the two KGS presentations are worth a listen.
Here is a link to the agenda for the two days of meetings, which includes links to the videos of the sessions: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/committees/ctte_spc_2022_water_1/documents/agenda/weeklyinterim/20220829.pdf
Links to the individual presentations are available at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/committees/ctte_spc_2022_water_1/documents/. I have included the specific links to most of them below.
Day 1 on August 29, 2020 included a few introductory matters and then a series of select state agency updates, providing an overview of state laws and programs to address water issues.
- Water agency organization chart: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/committees/ctte_spc_2022_water_1/documents/testimony/20220829_15.pdf
- State Water Plan fund (2022 session): http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/committees/ctte_spc_2022_water_1/documents/testimony/20220829_17.pdf
- Blue Ribbon Task Force Report, Jan 2017: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/committees/ctte_spc_2022_water_1/documents/testimony/20220829_12.pdf
Agency updates (note: I have indicated the time on the video where the presentation starts):
- Earl Lewis, Chief Engineer, KDA – Division of Water Resources (9:25), overviewed DWR’s responsibilities and highlighted the problem of the Ogallala Aquifer over-appropriation, the tools that the legislature has passed to help address it, and the limited progress made to date in parts of western Kansas.
- Connie Owen, Director, Kansas Water Office (45:20)
- Andrew Lyon, Director, KDA, Division of Conservation (1:31:15).
- Leo Henning, Deputy Sec. of Environment, KDHE (4:00:45)
- Kansas Geological Survey overview (4:50:00)
Then two presentations by the Kansas Geological Survey, focusing on the Ogallala aquifer:
- Brownie Wilson, KGS, (4:57:45) its general characteristics of Kansas Aquifer with a focus on the history, rate of decline, life expectancy of the Ogallala:
- a technical presentation by Jim Butler (5:24:25) on the KGS’ recent work to better predict the reductions needed to stabilize the Ogallala aquifer: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/committees/ctte_spc_2022_water_1/documents/testimony/20220829_07.pdf
The day concluded with a brief state agency funding overview: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/committees/ctte_spc_2022_water_1/documents/testimony/20220829_16.pdf
Day 2 on August 30 started with a presentation by Prof. Burke Griggs, which stressed his opinions on the shortcomings of Kansas state water laws and their administration and his recommendations for rectifying these. http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/committees/ctte_spc_2022_water_1/documents/testimony/20220830_03.pdf
This was followed by a presentation by Rep. Joe Newland, entitled “Overview of Financial Plan” which talked about funding recommendations of the 2016 Blue Ribbon Task Force, which focused on a dedication of a 1/10 of one cent of the state’s sales tax to water funding. See: https://www.kwo.ks.gov/water-plan/blue-ribbon-funding-task-force.
Committee (non-) Discussions
Finally, the Committee’s agenda include a time for Committee discussions, an hour and a half in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. However, it seemed discussions were not encouraged. There was approx. 30 minutes of discussions on funding centered on challenges of securing funding via a portion of the State’s sales tax and the possibility of a small fee on sales of bottled water.
Brief reflections on the Legislative discussions of 2021-22 and current needs
While there seems to be significant consensus among those knowledgeable in water matters that there is a need for change, esp. expanded funding and improvements in state agency structure and/or coordination, there is no consensus on the specifics. As is noted at the beginning of the article, the committee discussions were disappointing, in that there was no movement toward any consensus on these issues. It seems without strong leadership, consensus on these specifics will be impossible to reach.
As someone who has worked almost all my career in state government in water, I have never really thought the system was broken. Each agency has its mission, staffing, and programs to carry its duties. I have not observed much conflict and there have always been coordinating mechanism to help agencies work together.
However, Rep. Highland strongly advocated for a single voice for water in the legislature, believing it to be a key in securing additional focus, coordination, and ultimately, more funding needed to address water issues. Over the course of the last legislative session, listening to all the agency reports to address water, I have become convinced that a single voice is needed.
In addition, it is time to replace the 2016 Blue Ribbon Task Force’s recommendation on funding with an updated look at today’s and tomorrow’s needs and opportunities.