Note: with increasing media attention to water issues, including this past week’s AP story, “Warning About Aquifer’s Decline Sets up Big Fight in Kansas”, we have created a new page for significant media coverage on Kansas water issues: https://kwrconsulting.com/blog/media-on-kansas-water-issue/
Where we have been:
During the 2021-22 legislative session, the leadership of Kansas House of Representatives agreed to create a special committee to look at the critical state water issues, called the House Committee on Water (HCOW) under the leadership of Representative Ron Highland of Wamego.
Over the course of two years, the HCOW held 50 hearings to gather information about the work of the numerous state and local water agencies involved in the world of water and the state’s water challenges. The following web link includes an index of each hearing: date, subject, and links to presentations and documents provided at the hearings (as well as key events in the legislative process and media responses). https://kwrconsulting.com/legislation/hcow2022/.
On February 14, 2022, the Committee leadership produced the so-called Mega-water bill, due to its size and scope, which included numerous proposals to address the challenges they heard. In short, the bill included:
- creation of a consolidating water agency to bring additional focus and coordination,
- significant increases in funding for water projects via new fees,
- modifying election procedures for groundwater management districts (to broaden representation),
- mandating action in areas of groundwater declines,
- authorizing the chief engineer to issue certain orders without review by the secretary,
- establishing a civil penalty for obstructions in streams violations and establishing the water structures emergency fund.
Here is a link to my summary of the original bill: https://kwrconsulting.com/legislation/hcow2022/summary-of-hb-2686-the-mega-water-bill/. See also the Chairman’s proposed edits to the bill after its hearings, summarized on the HCOW link in the paragraph above.
Rather than debate the Chairman’s revised bill, a legislator proposed a substitute bill which gutted key components of the bill. While it passed out of committee, it was never heard by the full House of Representatives as it no longer had leadership’s support. So, in short, ultimately the mega-water bill went nowhere. See the media’s response at our new media page.
But the issues remain. Retiring Rep. Highland asked for an 2022 interim committee, seeking to continue the momentum of the HCOW’s work as well as an audit of the states’ Groundwater Management Districts (GMDs), which is to be made public during mid-Feb. 2023
The interim’s “Special Committee on Water”, composed by both Senate and House members was a disappointment. The two days including some valuable briefings from the state water agencies dealing with water issues, but the “committee discussions” that followed were very short and disappointing as they did little to move forward the Legislature’s discussion of these critical water issues. For those interested in the Ogallala aquifer, DWR’s presentation AND the two KGS presentations are worth a listen. For links to these presentations and more: https://kwrconsulting.com/legislation/special-committee-on-water-2022/.
Where do we go from here?
The concerns listed above remain unresolved. Several legislators lobbied the new Speaker of House to continue the House Committee on Water. Ultimately, he agreed and appointed a new leadership: Representative Jim Minnix of Scott City as chair and Representative Cyndi Howerton of Wichita as vice-chair. Democratic Rep. Lindsey Vaughn will continue as ranking minority member.
Once again, we have built a web page to chronicle the HCOW’s work, and any significant water legislation from other House committees or the Senate. See https://kwrconsulting.com/legislation/.
The HCOW meets on Tuesday and Thursday at 9:00 at Room 218-N. The committee’s web page, which includes its membership, agendas & minutes, documents, and testimony, is at:
Of the 17 committee members, 11 are new. So, the first few weeks will likely include a number of briefings to get new members up-to-speed on water issues generally and last session’s work.
This coming week’s agenda includes:
- Tuesday, January 10, Committee introductions, and discussion of the committee’s purpose, rules, procedures, and such.
- Thursday, January 12, David Barfield, Retired Kansas Chief Engineer. Rep. Minnix contacted me at the end of 2022, requesting I provide the committee with a briefing on the duties of the Chief Engineer, and my experiences as Chief Engineer, particularly as it relates to the Ogallala Aquifer and the new tools developed to address groundwater declines during my tenure (LEMAs, WCAs, MYFAs). I will also briefly overview last session’s HB 2686, with a focus on its provisions related to groundwater management.
You can listen into the hearings via the audio link on the committee’s web page or via the state’s YouTube channel at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_0NO-Pb96CFABvxDwXAq8A (accessible via a link “Audio/Video” link at the top of the page.