Creation of the LEMA tool, 2012
The state’s Groundwater Management District (GMD) Act was amended in 2012 to allow for the creation of Local Enhanced Management Areas (LEMAs). Much of the impetus for the amendments was from a group of waterusers in Sheridan County of northwest Kansas who wanted to reduce use in their area by 20% to reduce groundwater declines and extend the life of their aquifer but did not trust the process in place at the time to accomplish this: Intensive Groundwater Use Control Areas (IGUCAs). The reason was simple: under the IGUCA process, the Chief Engineer makes the decision of what to do to address the groundwater decline problem, not the locals. In response, the manager of GMD 4 outlined an alternative process that works with Kansas broader water law, but allows the GMD to develop a wateruse reduction plan for the Chief Engineer to consider via two hearings. With the support of state agencies and others (I as Chief Engineer at the time helped to draft the bill and testified in its support), the LEMA provisions were passed.
The state’s first LEMA created, 2013
With the legislation passed, Northwest Kansas GMD No. 4 immediately went to work with its Sheridan County stakeholders to develop a LEMA proposal to implement a 20% reduction in use for the 100 square mile area and its 200 water rights. After the required two public hearings, the Sheridan-6 LEMA was created for the 5-years of 2013-2017. In those five years, they reduced significantly more than their 20%; reducing use approximately 35% instead. In 2017, a new set of hearings was held, which extended the LEMA for the years 2018-2022.
Geographic overview of the current LEMAs
The map below provides a bit of context for this first LEMA and the subsequent LEMAs (and one more that is in process). The brown areas show lands covered by the state’s 5 Groundwater Management Districts (Western Kansas No. 1; Equus Beds No. 2, Southwest Kansas No. 3, Northwest Kansas No. 4, and Big Bend No. 5) that overlie Kansas major Ogallala-High Plains Aquifer of western and south-central Kansas. The Sheridan (or SD-6) LEMA is the orange-shaded area within northwest Kansas. The yellow-shaded area is the Northwest Kansas GMD 4’s “District-wide” LEMA discussed next. The green-shaded area is the Wichita County LEMA of Western Kansas GMD 1. Not shown but in progress is GMD 1’s Four County LEMA which is proposed to cover the portions of Lane, Scott, Greeley and Wallace counties within GMD 1.
The state’s second LEMA, Northwest Kansas’ District-wide LEMA, 2017
The success of this first, localized LEMA, led Northwest Kansas GMD 4, in 2017, to develop a proposal for a District-wide LEMA. This second LEMA has important differences from the Sheridan LEMA, principally its much more significant geographic scope and the resulting diversity in the rate of water levels declines that are being experienced. Below is a map from the Kansas Geological Survey’s (KGS) High Plains Atlas showing this diversity of water level declines in the Ogallala-High Plains aquifer over the last 20 years (with blue areas increasing and the light green areas experiencing small declines). For reference, the Sheridan LEMA is shown with a red border, the GMD 4’s “District-wide” LEMA is the gray-shaded area of northwest Kansas.
To address this diversity in water level declines, GMD 4 proposed allocations for this LEMA which are more restrictive in areas of higher declines (the yellow areas) and less restrictive in areas of lower declines.
While its water use reduction goals are not as restrictive of the Sheridan LEMA, this LEMA puts in place an important framework for on-going actions by the GMD, again with more focused action in the areas of the most significant declines. After two hearings required by the LEMA process in 2017, GMD 4’s LEMA plan was amended to remove areas of no or very limited decline, but was otherwise adopted as proposed for the years 2018-2022. This LEMA was opposed by some of the local waterusers both at the second LEMA hearing as well as in the Gove County District Court, but was ultimately upheld.
GMD 4 LEMA renewal hearings, July 26 & 27
Both the Sheridan LEMA and the GMD 4 LEMA (the new name for their “District-wide” LEMA as it does not cover the areas of low and no decline) expire at the end of 2022, and must be renewed for the coming 5-years, 2023-27. Based on the work of the GMD’s advisory committees and the action by its Board, both LEMAs are proposed to continue on essentially the same terms as the previous five years (with a few tweaks to improve their administration).
The Sheridan 6 LEMA hearing will be Tuesday, July 26, 2022, 2:00 p.m. at the Sheridan County Courthouse, 926 9th Street in Hoxie.
The GMD 4 LEMA hearing will be Wednesday, July 27, 2022, 10:00 a.m. at the City Limits Convention Center, 2227 S. Range Avenue in Colby.
Links for more information:
- DWR’s LEMA Page: https://agriculture.ks.gov/lema
- Sheridan LEMA Page: https://agriculture.ks.gov/divisions-programs/dwr/managing-kansas-water-resources/local-enhanced-management-areas/sheridan-county-6-lema
- Sheridan LEMA hearing notice: https://agriculture.ks.gov/docs/default-source/dwr-water-appropriation-documents/notice-of-hearing—sheridan-6-lema.pdf?sfvrsn=aea69ac1_0
- GMD 4 LEMA Page: https://agriculture.ks.gov/divisions-programs/dwr/managing-kansas-water-resources/local-enhanced-management-areas/gmd4-district-wide-lema
- Northwest Kansas GMD No. 4 website: http://gmd4.org/
- KGS Ogallala High Plains Atlas: https://www.kgs.ku.edu/HighPlains/HPA_Atlas/index.html
Upcoming KWRC News articles:
- GMD 1’s Four County LEMA (submitted to the Chief Engineer on July 1; more at: https://www.gmd1.org/)
- Kansas Water Authority Water Policy Discussion, Aug. 10, Salina
- Hays-Russell Change Applications and Water Transfer Process
- Kansas Legislature: next steps on water