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Ogallala Water Legislation

Legislative Efforts on Water Issues Stall; Ogallala Groundwater Declines Continue

Legislative update 

Substitute for the “Mega Water” languishes

As we wrote about during early March, the House Committee on Water produced the so-called “Mega Water bill” proposing to combine the state water agencies into a Department of Water and Environment, increase funding for water projects, reform GMD voting for its Board members, and more. While municipal water utilities and environmental groups lauded the committee’s effort to elevate water as a concern in Kansas. 

Based on the input from the two days of hearings, the Chair proposed a revised version of the bill which dealt with many of the objections heard. However, a committee member proposed a gutted version of the bill which would increase funding for water projects and some reporting by GMD’s on their fiscal matters and activities. This substitute version of the bill was passed favorably out of committee to the full House. For more see: https://www.cjonline.com/story/business/agricultural/2022/03/01/kansas-farm-bureau-agriculture-groups-legislators-square-off-over-water-policy-overhaul-new-agency/9332068002/.  

Since that time, the Substitute Bill for HB 2686 had remained “below the line,” meaning the full House has not considered the bill. At this point, it is unlikely to move forward.

Two Senate bills on GMDs considered 

Meanwhile, two news bills, SB 548 and SB 549, were introduced in the Senate by municipal interests frustrated with the lack of representation on GMD boards and what they see as an unnecessary and burdensome layer of local government.  SB 548 would restrict GMDs’ ability to regulate non-irrigation use; SB 549 would allow non-irrigation water right holders to withdraw from GMDs and their regulation.

The Senate held a hearing on the bills on March 14. Not surprisingly, numerous municipal interests supported the bills, asking the committee to move forward one of the two approaches to address their concerns; the state’s GMDs opposed both bills.  At the conclusion of the hearing, the Chair suggested it was too late in the session to move forward either bill, but believed the subject would be considered by next year’s Legislature.

What next? A Post-audit review of GMDs? An interim committee?

While it appears that both the Mega Water bill and its Substitute Bill are not moving forward, it is likely that a sub-set of the issues raised by the Committee’s work will be further considered after this Legislative session. The Committee’s leadership appears poised to request two actions to further the GMD issues in particular:

  1. Request an interim committee to continue the work of the committee, and  
  2. Request Legislative Research conduct a review of the GMDs, with a focus on whether and how they are carrying out their legislative purpose to conserve the state’s declining groundwater resources to prevent future economic deterioration of the regions dependent on these resources.

Both of these requests must be approved by their respective committees, which prioritize such requests. 

Groundwater levels continue to decline

Each winter, the Kansas Geological Survey and Kansas Division of Water Resources collect water level information in their network of observation wells in the Ogallala-High Plains aquifer. A preliminary report on this year’s findings can be viewed at: https://news.ku.edu/2022/03/23/groundwater-levels-fall-across-western-and-central-kansas. A map of annual water level declines is below. 

As a result of dry conditions in 2021, esp. during the growing season, water level declines were higher than in recent years, averaging 1.0 feet of decline over the entire monitoring network with the greatest declines being in southwest Kansas, which averaged 2.17 feet. This is the largest annual decline since 2013 (following the 2011-12 severe drought years). West-central Kansas and northwest Kansas saw lesser declines in 2021, of approximately. 0.5 feet.  

Categories
GMD Groundwater Ogallala

Upcoming Meetings, Recent Webinars and Court Decisions

Introduction: COVID is changing how we do water meetings, but not stopping them. One advantage is that most of them are more accessible than ever.  Below are details on upcoming meetings including:

  • A May 20 Kansas Water Authority meeting 
  • Upcoming meetings of the state’s Groundwater Management Districts (GMDs), starting with this week’s meetings of GMD 3 and GMD 5 (we keep an updated list on our GMD page:  https://kwrconsulting.com/gmds/)

Also below are links to recent webinars on the Ogallala, available online for viewing. 

Finally, the courts continue to work. Below are updates on two recent decisions related to 1) GMD 4’s LEMA and 2) the Hays/Russell change applications. 

Upcoming Meetings

Recent Webinars

  • Status of the Ogallala Aquifer and GMD 4 conservation activities – on April 29, 2020, the Kansas Water Office hosted a webinar related to the Ogallala Aquifer. The webinar featured Brownie Wilson of the Kansas Geological Survey on the State of Ogallala Aquifer and Shannon Kenyon, Manager of the Northwest Kansas GMD 4, discussing their conservation efforts. The presentation can be accessed at: https://www.kwo.ks.gov/news-events/kwo-webinars.
  • The Weight of Water: Values, Civic Engagement, and Collaborative Groundwater Management on the U.S. High Plains, Stephan Lauer, KSU.  On May 1, Stephan presented findings of an Ogallala CAP funded project that looked at producers’ attitudes towards water conservation and some of the success stories of grassroots collaborative groundwater management (like the Wichita County Water Conservation Area) to determine how such efforts can be expanded. This presentation is fairly technical, being orientated toward researchers, but the link that follows, in addition to having the presentation, includes accessible summaries of the research for the rest of us: http://ogallalawater.org/producer-attitudes/.

Court Updates

  • Judicial Review, GMD 4 LEMA.  On June 13, 2018, a petition for judicial review of the Chief Engineer’s April 13, 2018 order of designation was filed in the Gove County District Court. On October 15, 2019, the Gove County District Court upheld the order as constitutional.  On November 11, 2019, the plaintiffs filed a motion with the Court requesting it alter or amend its decision. On April 20, 2020, the Gove County District Court declined.  See the Friesen vs. Barfield table at: https://agriculture.ks.gov/gmd4lema.  The next step could be an appeal to the Kansas Court of Appeals.
  • Judicial Review, Hays R9 change application approval. On March 27, 2019, the chief engineer contingently approved the change applications of the cities of Hays and Russell to convert the irrigation rights of the R9 Ranch in Edwards County to municipal use for the cities. On May 29, 2019, WaterPACK filed a petition for judicial review in Edwards County District Court.  Over recent months, the Court and parties have been working principally through issues related to discovery. On April 27, 2020 the Court ruled on the parties’ motions and pleadings in this regard. With this done, the Court has provided the parties with a schedule that will have the remaining pleadings complete on August 17, 2020.  See https://agriculture.ks.gov/HaysR9

Categories
Ogallala

Ogallala CAP Aims to Support Farmers

Introduction: Improving Ogallala Aquifer Research and Outreach


It is well known that North America’s largest freshwater aquifer, the Ogallala Aquifer, has been and continues to be in decline, in both water quantity and quality.  This article will focus on an on-going response of the research community, principally in the region’s land-grant universities, to re-focus its research, collaboration, and outreach approaches to provide the region’s producers with information and tools to optimize and reduce water use, thereby extending the life of the aquifer, while maintains profitability.

Ogallala Aquifer
Map by L. Moore via ogallalawater.org

Many involved in the use or management of the Ogallala aquifer will be familiar with OgallalaWater.org, the website of the Ogallala Water Coordinated Agriculture Project (CAP) as well as it the 8-state Ogallala Summit it helped organize (see below), but the CAP is much more.

In this issue of the KWRC News, we overview the CAP, its objectives, the resources it is working to provide producers and other audiences, and discuss the upcoming events and products planned to complete the project.

Ogallala Water Coordinated Agriculture Project (CAP)

The Ogallala Water Coordinated Agriculture Project (CAP) is a USDA funded research and outreach project focused on helping address issues related to groundwater declines (quantity & quality). The project was initiated in 2016 and will wrap up in the spring of 2021. It includes a team of approximately 70 university researchers, extension specialists, students and post-docs, based in 10 institutions, and 6 hub agricultural experiment stations in 6 Ogallala states.

According to their website, the project’s research and outreach activities aim to support farmer decision making and productivity in the Ogallala region, today and for future generations.

Research 

The heart of the project is research. CAP project leaders are working to make this research more accessible to producers via the website’s Project Activities/Our Research page, with links and summaries of select papers of interest to producers, regularly updated, divided into the following 4 areas: 

A full list of publications produced as part of the project can be found at the following page: http://ogallalawater.org/resources/publications/. Again, the list of research papers to grow over the next year.

Outreach: “Topics”, Summits, and More:

It appears to me the most interesting and practical parts of the website are its “Topics.”  Each topic includes introductions, resource guides, and links to free tools, video tutorials, and papers of interest. The site currently has the following 4 topics, with 6 more to be added in the coming months:

Another key outreach activity is its Ogallala Summits. The first was held in Garden City, Kansas on April 9-10, 2018 in Garden City, Kansas. The results of the Summit can be found at http://ogallalawater.org/2018-ogallala-aquifer-summit/.  The page includes a link to the Summit’s report and links to videos from the key presentations. The project planned a second summit for March 31-April 1 of this year in Amarillo, Texas, but it had to be postponed due to the COVID19 pandemic. The next Summit is planned for the first quarter of 2021.

Amy Kremen, project manager, recently told me in an interview that they are planning to have an expanded selection of webinars in the near future as well.

More to Come / Keeping Up

Again, as the CAP works to wrap up, expect a flurry of additional research papers, expanded Topics, another Summit, webinars, producer stories, and more. 

The project team is also involved in helping to support the development and launch of Master Irrigator programs, such as Colorado Master Irrigator, modeled after a successful program launched in 2016 in the Texas Panhandle by the North Plains Groundwater Conservation District.

To keep track of the work of the Ogallala CAP, sign up for their newsletter at the bottom of their home page.