Categories
GMD Groundwater Legislature Water Legislation

Legislative Next Steps on Water: an Interim Committee and an Audit of the GMDs

As I wrote about regularly this past legislative session, the House Committee on Water had a busy two years. In the end, drafting the so-called “mega-water bill”, which, pun intended, got watered down and ended up going nowhere this past session. 

But the issues considered by the Committee are important and the work will continue. Between now and the 2023 legislative session two things are planned: an interim committee and an audit of the state’s Groundwater Management Districts. Below is what we know about each as of this writing. 

Legislative Interim Committee on Water, August 29-30, Topeka 

As requested by the Chair of the House Committee on Water, the Legislative Coordinating Council, which makes decisions on such matters, approved two days for an interim committee on water issues.  Specifically the approved topics are: “Issues Related to Kansas Aquifers, Dam Storage Capacity, and Funding.”  

The committee will be made up of both Senate and House members and includes: 

Senate:  Sen. Dan Kerschen, Chairperson; Sen. Carolyn McGinn; Sen. Ron Ryckman; Sen. Alicia Straub; Sen. Mary Ware.                
House: Rep. Ron Highland, Vice-chairperson; Rep. Cyndi Howerton; Rep. Jim Minnix; Rep. Joe Newland, Rep. Lindsay Vaughn; Rep. Rui Xu.

The meetings are planned to be in Room 112-N of the Capitol.

Those are all the specifics currently available. Below are two links where more information should be posted as the time gets closer:

The Kansas Legislative Research Departments web page on the interim committee: http://www.kslegresearch.org/KLRD-web/Committees/Committees-Spc-2022-Water.html

The special committee’s web page: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/committees/ctte_spc_2022_water_1/.

Evaluating Groundwater Management Districts’ Efforts to Conserve Water

Again, as requested by House Committee on Water Chairman Highland and Rep. Lindsay Vaughn, the Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit has been approved to conduct an audit of the state’s Groundwater Management Districts (GMDs) efforts to conserve water.

The Audit study proposal is available at: https://www.kslpa.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Evaluating-Groundwater-Management-Districts-Efforts-to-Conserve-Water-Audit-Proposal.pdf.

The State has five GMDs over the Ogallala-High Plains Aquifer, shown in the map below.  According to the GMD Act’s Legislative declaration, their purposes include: “the proper management of the groundwater resources of the state; for the conservation of groundwater resources; for the prevention of economic deterioration; for associated endeavors within the state of Kansas through the stabilization of agriculture; and to secure for Kansas the benefit of its fertile soils and favorable location with respect to national and world markets.” 

Map of Groundwater Management Districts in Kansas

According to the Audit’s study proposal, the audit has three objectives:

  • Objective 1: What programs do Groundwater Management Districts (GMDs) administer and are those programs appropriate? 
  • Objective 2: Have GMDs identified areas of concern within their districts and do their programs effectively address those concerns?
  • Objective 3: How much did GMDs spend in the most recent year and what percentage was for directly addressing their districts’ identified areas of concern?

For each objective, the proposal has tentative methodologies listed, including such things as:

  • reviewing background information on the legislative purposes of GMDs, especially with respect to water conservation; 
  • collecting information from each GMD on their management programs, activities, budget, etc;
  • interviewing GMD staff on the same; 
  • comparing the GMD’s work and priorities with their legislative purposes;  
  • determining whether GMDs are identifying “areas of concern” within their district with respect to declining quantity and quality of groundwater and their programs to address these concerns;
  • and working with GMDs to determine how they are funded; how they make spending decisions and what portions of their funding they are using to address identified areas of concern. 

The Audit is slated to start late August and take approximately 4 months to complete, with a report to the 2023 Legislature. 

More on GMDs:

Upcoming KWRC News articles:

  • Kansas Water Authority Water Policy Discussion, Aug. 10, Salina
  • GMD 1’s Four County LEMA (submitted to the Chief Engineer on July 1; more at: https://www.gmd1.org/)
  • Hays-Russell Change Applications and Water Transfer Process

To subscribe to this Newsletter: https://landing.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/l4q8w8 (a link is also on the KWRC home page at: https://kwrconsulting.com/).

Categories
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
Legislature Policy Water Legislation

Mega Water Bill markup coming March 1

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/.

Committee discussions

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.

Categories
Water Legislation

Overview of HB 2686, the Mega Water Bill

Summary by David Barfield, Kansas Water Resources Consulting


Last updated: 2/10/2022, 11:00 pm, based on brief initial overview of the bill.


This page (https://kwrconsulting.com/blog/hcow2022/summary-of-hb-2686-the-mega-water-bill/) will be updated with additional review of the bill.

The mega water bill has arrived. Its legislative web page is at:
http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/hb2686/.

The proposed legislation is at:
http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/documents/hb2686_00_0000.pdf

Based on the calendar of the House Committee on Water (HCOW) at
http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/committees/ctte_h_water_1/documents/agenda/weekly/20
220220.pdf
, Monday and Tuesday (2/14 and 2/15) will be briefings on the bill by the Revisor and
Committee Leadership, respectively; two days of hearings on Wednesday and Thursday, with possible action on the bill by the Committee on Friday.

Its short title is: “Creating the Kansas department of water and environment within the executive branch and transferring the duties of certain offices to such department, establishing the water and environment maintenance fund and the water and environment maintenance board, modifying election procedures for groundwater management districts, establishing a water rights fee on owners of water rights and permits to appropriate water for beneficial use, authorizing the chief engineer to issue certain orders without review by the secretary of water and environment, increasing water protection fees, establishing a civil penalty for obstructions in streams violations and establishing the water structures emergency fund.”

The “short title” seems to provide a good overview of the bill.

It is 283 pages. Sections 1-14 (pages 1-26) are new sections that provide most of the substantive changes. From my quick review, the remaining sections are mostly edits to existing statutes to confirm to the proposed legislations intent (and Revisor clean-ups). A few exceptions are noted below. There certainly could be other substantive changes that I missed, esp. in areas where my experience is limited (i.e. outside statutes that DWR and the GMDs administer).

Here is an overview of the proposed legislation:
New Section 1 – Establishes the new Department of Water and Environment (DWE).
New Section 2 – Administration of the DWE, powers
New Section 3 – Division of Water and Environmental Planning (currently KWO)
New Section 4 – Division of Environment and Conservation (merging KDHE’s division of environment & KDA’s Division of Conservation)

For KWO, KDHE’s Div. of Environment, and KDA’s DOC:

  • The Directors will be appointed by the Secretary, serving at his/her pleasure
  • The adoption of rules will be transferred to the Secretary
  • Existing rules, orders, and directives shall be orders, etc. of the Secretary

New Section 5 – Division of Water Resources continues with same name, Chief Engineer as Director

  • DWR continue to be administered by the Chief Engineer (CE). The CE will be appointed by Secretary but in classified service.
  • The will CE continue with his/her own rule making but subject to review by Secretary
  • Orders and directives will continue to be those of the CE.

New Section 6 – Department of Health is the remainder of KDHE.
New Section 7 – Water and Environment Maintenance Fund
New Section 8 – Water and Environment Maintenance Board
New Section 9 – Annual Water Right Fee ($1/AF, min $25, max $250)
New Section 10 – Election of GMD District Board members (the language does not say GMD, but at the end it says the section is supplemental to GMD act)
New Section 11 – Eligibility for GMD Board members
New Section 12 – Number of GMD Board members
New Section 13 – Annual report to the Legislature by each GMD
New Section 14 – Requirements for GMDs to identify areas of concern, conduct outreach to those areas and to develop plans to address the concerns; if GMDs fail to develop plans, the CE is authorized to initiate IGUCA to reduced the rate of aquifer decline.
Section 15 and following are amendments to existing statutes. The short title says there are increases to fees; I did not look for those.
Section 183 (p.209-210) adds civil penalties for violations of the stream obstruction act and adds a water structures emergency fund.
Section 249-252 (p. 260-62) some changes on CE hearings (likely to better confirm with the
administrative procedure and judicial review acts).
Section 280 – repealing numerous statutes
Section 281 – effective date: July 1, 2023

Note: My review to date has been very limited and has focused on an overview of the legislation, esp. for the sections of particular interest to me (I have not and do NOT intend to provide a comprehensive review). The Revisor’s presentation on Monday and Committee Leadership presentation on Tuesday will provide a more comprehensive review.

Categories
Legislature Water Legislation

Water News: Major Water Legislation Awaits Revisor

House Committee on Water 

As I reported in last week’s KWRC News, there is a lot of talk in the halls of the Capitol about major water legislation coming out of the House Committee on Water soon. Apparently, the chair of the committee had hoped to have it introduced last week, but it is taking time to get it through the Revisor’s Office due, in part, to its magnitude (400+ pages). It is now expected around the end of the week, Feb. 11. No one is revealing specifics, but it is rumored to propose significant re-organization of the state’s water agencies, more fees to pay for water projects, and more. So stay tuned here, on my Twitter account @kwrconsulting, or on Facebook page at  kwrconsulting.  

We have updated our HCOW webpage for the latest news and added links to media on the committee’s work including the following:  

Groundwater Management District (GMD) annual meetings 

During February and March, all five of the state’s GMDs hold their annual meetings where you can learn more about the GMD’s activities, plans, and budgets and where elections for Board members occur. Below are the dates, times, locations, and links the GMD websites for more information. 

Categories
Policy Water Legislation

Major Water Legislation Looms

Like last week, this week saw significant water news and still more is to come.  The big news looming is expected major water legislation coming out of the House Committee on Water in the next week or two, but most likely in the coming days. 

House Committee on Water (HCOW)

This past week’s meeting of the HCOW included informational briefings from the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s Division of Conservation and the Association of Conservation Districts, both on Monday, and the briefings by the Kansas Water Office (KWO) Director and Kansas Water Authority Chairperson on Wednesday. Links to the documents presented, as well as videos of the sessions can be found at: https://kwrconsulting.com/blog/hcow2022/.  

The KWO/KWA briefing featured a review of the KWA’s Annual Report to the Governor and Legislature available here: www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/committees/ctte_h_water_1/misc_documents/download_testimony/ctte_h_water_1_20220126_01_testimony.html.  The report is a helpful primer on the myriad of programs funded by the State Water Plan Fund under the headings of the Ogallala Aquifer, Reservoir Water Supply & Sediment Management, and Water Quality Initiatives. The report also includes updates on many current water issues of general interest. 

Hearing on House Bill 2480: The HCOW held their first hearing on water legislation HB 2480 on Tuesday, which would revise the public water supply project loan program’s definition of “project” to remove the definition’s current exclusion of projects that are related to the diversion or transportation of water acquired through a water transfer. During the hearing, the HCOW heard supportive oral testimony from the City of Hays and received written testimony from the City of Russell which was unable to attend. The Committee also heard neutral testimony from the Director of the Bureau of Water and saw no opponents. 

House Committee on Water
House Committee on Water

Committee action on HB 2480 – On Thursday, the HCOW “worked” the bill, quickly passing the bill out of committee favorably to the House floor. Similar legislation, SB 358, was heard and passed out of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources. Both were put on their respective chambers consent calendars.

Next week’s HCOW agenda and hall talk of coming major legislation –  According to the committee’s agenda, it will be a quiet week this week consisting of an update on Monday from DWR’s Chief Engineer on Dam Safety, with the rest of the week labeled: “Meeting on call of the chair.”

But in the halls, in talking with committee members and others, I heard talk that a 400+ page water bill is coming to the Committee in this week (or so) which is expected to propose significant re-organization of the state’s water agencies, more fees to pay for water projects, and more. So stay tuned! 

The Kansas Water Authority (KWA) meeting

On Thursday, January 27, the Kansas Water Authority held an in-person meeting in Topeka. The highlight of the meeting was a visit by Governor Kelly where she highlighted her recommendations to the Legislature to fully fund the State Water Plan Fund for the first time since 2008.

While this is good news, it is widely held that even with the restorage of full funding, this level of funding is inadequate for Kansas current and future needs. One prominent example, discussed in the KWA Annual Report, is the need start paying down the state’s obligation to pay for the remaining storage in Federal Reservoir which will come due over the coming decade or two. 

Chief Engineer Earl Lewis gave an update on several high-profile water issues that remaining pending including:

  • Northwest Kansas GMD No. 4 has formally requested the Sheridan 6 Local Enhanced Management Area (LEMA), which will expire at the end of 2022, be extend for another 5 years and plans to do the same for their District-wide LEMA in the coming weeks.
  • With respect to the Quivira Impairment issue, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service elected not to continue with its MOU with GMD No. 5, but will not request the Chief Engineer administer junior water rights as long as progress continues in developing a long-term solution.