After months of considerations, on March 26 the Board of Western Kansas Groundwater Management District No. 1 (GMD 1) formally submitted a plan for a Local Enhanced Management Area for Wichita County to the Chief Engineer for consideration. Details of the plan can be found on GMD 1’s website at: http://gmd1.org/lema.html
Wichita County is one of the most depleted counties of the Ogallala, with an average of approx. 20 feet of remaining saturated thickness. However, use of water from the Ogallala is still a very important part of the local economy, for not only irrigation but also high value animal agriculture.
Wichita County has a very active wateruser community seeking to double the life of their aquifer through conserving today. During 2016-2017, a Wichita County steering committee worked to develop a Water Conservation Area for the county wherein waterusers voluntarily enroll, committing to use less and gaining significant flexibilities on the use of the limited water supply. Approximately 20% of irrigated acres are enrolled in the plan. The WCA plan can be found at: https://www.agriculture.ks.gov/divisions-programs/dwr/managing-kansas-water-resources/wca/wichita-county-wca.
For the last two years, the Wichita County WCA steering committee has been working with the Board of GMD 1 to develop a LEMA for the county. LEMAs can only be adopted via a request by the local GMD. Last week’s action by the GMD 1 board moves GMD 1’s LEMA plan to consideration via a two hearing process by the Chief Engineer to determine if the LEMA should be adopted. If so, it would require all irrigation waterusers of the county to conserve, although at a lesser rate than those in the WCA.
In summary, under the LEMA plan, all irrigation users would be required to reduce recent historic use by 25% for the years 2021-2025, after giving consideration for past voluntary conservation via an appeal process.
The allocations would be provided over the 5 year period for each combined well unit. The website above has a more complete summary of provisions, as well as proposed allocations for each water right in the county.
From here, the Chief Engineer will review the plan to insure it is acceptable for the hearing process, and if so, will schedule the first of two required public hearings to consider whether the LEMA plan should be adopted. While statute requires these hearings be held “as soon as is practicable,” it is unclear under the current context, when this will occur.
More information on LEMA can be found on KDA-DWR’s website at: http://www.agriculture.ks.gov/lema