Before going on to the main subject of this newsletter, one brief aside:
This past week, on Feb. 2, the Chief Engineer held the second hearing required to approve and implement GMD 1’s proposed Four County Local Enhanced Management Area (LEMA). No one spoke against the LEMA. In the coming weeks, based on the hearing, the Chief Engineer will issue first an Order of Decision with respect to whether the LEMA should be established per GMD 1’s LEMA Plan.
HB 2279, Requiring GMDs to develop plans to address Ogallala declines
This Thursday, on Feb 9, the House Committee on Water (HCOW) will be hearing testimony on HB 2279. Its short title is “Requiring groundwater management districts to submit annual written reports to the legislature and to provide water conservation and stabilization action plans to the chief engineer.”
The provisions are very similar to requirements of Sections 13 and 14 of last year’s so-called Mega-water bill, HB 2686 (2022). If you are interested, I created a rough comparison of this current version with last year’s, on my web site at: https://kwrconsulting.com/legislation/, under “Bills” and the discussion on HB 2279.
As the short name implies, the bill has two components: annual reporting of GMDs to the Legislature and, more significantly, requirements that GMDs:
- By July 1, 2024, the GMDs identify areas of concerns and,
- Working with their waterusers, and by July 1, 2026 develop and submit to the Chief Engineer “action plans” to address the groundwater declines in the areas of concern, and
- If a GMD fails to develop an adequate plan, the Chief Engineer is authorized to take action.
In my presentation to the HCOW on Jan. 12, I supported the provision of last year’s bill on GMD reporting and especially these requirements to identifying areas of concern, plans to address, and for the chief engineer to have the ability and duty to deal with their failure to do so.
So I plan to offer testimony in support of the bill.
However, in reviewing the details of the proposed bill, I find it is overly broad and unfocused. While all of western Kansas Ogallala is in decline (outside some fringe areas of low use), action is not uniformly needed. On Friday and Saturday, I reviewed the bill in detail and provided the Committee leadership with my suggestions for improving the bill, aimed to focus action where it is most urgently needed, to improve its clarity, and to insure it results in meaningful action.
Specifically, I plan to recommend the bill be modified in the following ways:
- The bill should exempt areas already in LEMAs from the first round of action plan development.
- Instead of “areas of concern,” the bill should require the identification of “priority areas of concern” where the need for planning and action is most clear and urgent.
- With all the data already available, the GMDs can and should have their priority areas of concern identified by the end of this year, and should submit such to the Legislature and state agencies for review by January 1, 2024.
- Action plans be submitted over two years, with half being submitted by July 1, 2025, and the remaining by July 1, 2026, to get started and spread the workload.
- A clear standard for action plan adequacy should be added.
With respect to the question of “priority areas of concern,” I plan to submit the latest KGS Estimated Useable Life map below and suggest that all areas with less than 50 years of remaining useable life be in a GMD’s “priority areas of concern” as a minimum. This will focus action where most needed.
This year’s bill does not provide a clear statement of what constitutes an adequate plan. I think this is essential. So here is what I plan to suggest. On the KGS’ Remaining Usable Life Map above, I have added KGS’s draft county “Q-stable values” I obtained from KGS last year. The Q-Stable values represent the percentage reduction in pumping required to get to stable water levels for the next couple of decades. As an example, the largest value on the map is Grey County at 53.4. This means the KGS estimates it would take a 53.4% reduction in pumping in Grey County to get Grey County to stable water levels. To halve the rate of decline in Grey County would take a reduction of half of this, or 27%.
In last year’s HB 2686, for failure of a GMD to develop an adequate plan, it authorized the Chief Engineer to “develop a plan to, at a minimum, reduce by 50% the 2000-2019 rate of groundwater declines as determined by the chief engineer…” Again, to obtain a 50% reduction in the rate of decline, the required percentage reductions in pumping would be half of the values in map. To take a less extreme values, in neighboring Haskell County, the 40.6 would mean a 20% reduction in pumping would be needed to half its rate of decline.
In my view, the 50% reduction in rate of decline standard is very serious step, especially for the first set of an action plan. I believe an explicate standard is needed for this process to be taken seriously by a GMD that has been resistant to taking action. I am suggesting the committee adopt a value between 25% and 40% as the required reduction in rate of decline for an action plan to be considered adequate in these areas of less than 50 years of remaining useable life.
Let me know if you have any thoughts, suggestions, or questions.
For more information from KGS on the High Plains aquifer see: https://www.kgs.ku.edu/Publications/pic18/index.html and/or https://www.kgs.ku.edu/HighPlains/HPA_Atlas/index.html.