Categories
GMD Groundwater Meeting Reports Water Legislation

Activities of the 2024 House Committee on Water

After a landmark year in 2023, when the House Committee on Water (HCOW) led the way in securing a
significant expansion in water funding via HB 2302 and greater accountability for the state’s groundwater management districts (GMDs) in HB 2279, the Committee continues efforts to move forward our state’s management of its water resources.


The Committee’s page is at: https://kslegislature.org/li/b2023_24/committees/ctte_h_water_1/. The page includes a list of committee members, links to bills in committee, agendas, testimony, and more.

A playlist of the videos of the Committee’s proceedings this year is available at:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tdmexZzhhB4&list=PLGnUWv2THZAj-TUBuTGmTzG3emG6yZD7h. As in past years, the Committee started the session with a series of briefings from state agencies.


GMD annual reports

In recent weeks, per last year’s HB 2279, the Committee received written reports from each of the state’s five GMDs, as well as oral testimony. Below is a listing of the dates of these hearings and links to their written reports, which includes a summary of their activities and financial information on each of the GMD’s assets, annual receipts, expenditures. and budget.


January 23: Western Kansas GMD 1 and Northwest GMD 4.
https://kslegislature.org/li/b2023_24/committees/ctte_h_water_1/committee_testimony/?selected_da
te=01%2F23%2F2024

January 25: Equus Beds GMD 2 and Big Bend GMD 5.
https://kslegislature.org/li/b2023_24/committees/ctte_h_water_1/committee_testimony/?selected_da
te=01%2F25%2F2024

January 30: Southwest Kansas GMD 3.
https://kslegislature.org/li/b2023_24/committees/ctte_h_water_1/committee_testimony/?selected_d
ate=01%2F30%2F2024


Hearing on HB 2459 (restricts changes in PDs)

On 2/1, the committee had a hearing on the unpopular HB2459, “Prohibiting the change of the point of diversion of a water right if such change causes the safe yield of the source of water supply to be exceeded.” Testimony regarding the bill, including mine, can be found at:
https://kslegislature.org/li/b2023_24/committees/ctte_h_water_1/committee_testimony/?selected_da
te=02%2F01%2F2024
.

Here is a short summary of the bill’s intent, testimony, and where it seems to be going:

  • The bill was proposed by a member of the committee, Rep. Kenny Titus, who wanted to highlight concerns he is hearing regarding changes in water right’s points of diversion (PD).
  • The bill had no proponents; 3 of us were neutral, mostly to say the bill sought to address real problems, even though all of us had concerns with the specific language of the bill.
  • All other testimony was opposed to the bill, mostly citing that changes in PDs are necessary; the bill is too restrictive; and the problem is best dealt with in regulations.
  • In the committee’s discussion after the testimony, Rep. Titus said he appreciated the views expressed and that his purpose in putting forward the bill was to highlight the concerns with PD changes. His remarks suggested that the best path forward was for the Chief Engineer (CE) to address the concerns expressed with regulations. Chairman Minnix’s remarks suggested that the bill will go no further in committee and also advocated consideration of concerns by the CE.

New Bills Introduced on February 1

At the Feb. 1 hearing, four bill introductions were made for bills currently being drafted by the Revisors Office. Here is my understanding of the subject of these introduced bills:

  • Rep. Howerton introduced a bill related to the meaning of K.S.A. 82a-1028’s power given to GMD to advise and assist the Chief Engineer.
  • Rep Vaughn, introduced two bills:
    • RS 2824 on the role of GMDs related to Water Conservation Areas and,
    • RS 2823 which would allow GMD members of a particular area within a GMD to petition to be removed from the GMDs.
  • Mr. Stucky, on behalf of GMD 5, introduced a bill which would amend provisions of Kansas Water Banking Act.

Coming the week of February 5, 2024:


On Tuesday, there will be a hearing on two bills:

  • HB2633 — “Providing for additional sources of revenue for the [KDHE’s] water program management fund and requiring water supply system and wastewater treatment facility operator certification examination fees to not exceed the costs for such exams.”
  • HB2634 — “Providing an additional corrective control provision for the chief engineer to consider when issuing orders of designations for local enhanced managements areas and intensive groundwater use control areas.”
Categories
GMD Groundwater Legislature LEMA Ogallala Policy Water Legislation

House Overwhelmingly Passes GMD and Water Funding Bills, on to Senate

Here is a summary of the House’s consideration of two of the most significant water bills to be heard in the last 10 years: one that significantly expands state funding of water infrastructure and a second which requires the state’s groundwater management districts (GMDs) to act to address groundwater declines.

HB 2279, the GMD Bill 

In my last news article a month ago, I reported on the House’s consideration of HB 2279 which would require Groundwater Management District (GMD) to provide annual reporting and to identify areas of concern and to work with their waterusers to develop “action plans” to address the groundwater declines in those areas of concern. The bill included a provision allowing the Chief Engineer to take action if he/she found the action plan inadequate. 

My article also outlined the testimony I planned to offer in support of the bill, but recommending a number of improvements. Link to my final testimony: http://kslegislature.org/li/b2023_24/committees/ctte_h_water_1/misc_documents/download_testimony/ctte_h_water_1_20230209_01_testimony.html    

At the committee’s Feb. 9 hearing, all testified in support of the bill, including Kansas Farm Bureau and the Kansas Livestock Association, except Southwest Kansas GMD No. 3 and Southwest Kansas Irrigators, both whom opposed the bill.  Like mine, much of the supporting testimony provided suggestions for improving the bill, many echoed my suggestions.

The committee leadership put forward an amended version of the bill, which it passed overwhelmingly on February 17. Here is a link to the bill’s supplemental note with an expanded summary of the amended bill’s provisions, a summary of testimony and resulting amendments in committee.  

The amended bill took my specific suggestion for defining “priority areas of concern”, as a minimum, to include areas with less than 50 years of remaining usable life. This will focus initial action where most needed, as significant areas within western Kansas GMDs still have significant remaining life. See the map below from my testimony (and its explanation in there).  In short, the red areas have less than 25 years of water left, the darker orange has 25-50 years remaining. Those are the areas that need focus within southwest Kansas (as northwest and west central Kansas are in LEMAs). About 25% of Southwest Kansas GMD 3 has less than 50 years left (but there are large parts of GMD 3, esp. the southern tier counties that have more than 50 years left with some years over 100 years.  But it is past time to act in the critical areas.  

KGS' Estimated Usable Life Map with Q-stable values 2022

The amended bill did NOT include my suggestion for a clear definition of adequacy. Despite this, I continue to support the bill and believe it a real step forward in requiring GMDs that have not done so to seriously look at the Ogallala problem where action is most urgently needed and engage the waterusers in those areas on how to address the problem.  As I have been telling reporters in recent weeks, the GMD Act has a mission and power, but no specific water management goals. This changes that.

The amended bill was considered by the full House on February 23, and passed on a vote of 116-6. It is now in Senate, waiting to be heard by the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. While no hearing is yet scheduled; hopefully this will occur next week, as all bills need to be out of their respective committee by March 24.

HB 2302, the Water Funding bill

I have not weighed in on this bill as it is not in my area of expertise and it had plenty of conferees supporting the bill. In many ways, this bill is more significant to the State’s future than the GMD bill above.  If passed, it would increase dedicated state fundings to water projects from the current $8 million/year to approximately $50 million/year. 

Once again, the amended bill passed out of committee with overwhelming support as well as the full House (the vote was 119-3). This is quite significant, as a similar effort to expand water funding through a dedicated part of the state sales tax was attempted in 2017 and got nowhere.

Here is a link to the amended bill that passed the committee and full House:  http://kslegislature.org/li/b2023_24/measures/documents/hb2302_01_0000.pdf.  

Here is a link to a supplemental note of the bill with more details:  http://kslegislature.org/li/b2023_24/measures/documents/supp_note_hb2302_01_0000.pdf.

Here is my brief summary of the supplemental note’s summary:  

The note’s “Brief”: “HB 2302, as amended, would establish funding for the State Water Plan and water infrastructure projects, create the Water Technical Assistance Fund and the Water Projects Grant Fund, authorize the Kansas Water Office (KWO) to provide grants and adopt rules and regulations to establish criteria for grants, and authorize distribution to the State Water Plan Fund (SWPF) of a portion of the revenue from the state sales and compensating use tax (sales tax revenue).”

The expanded money for water projects would not come from a tax increase or increased fees but from dedicating 1.231% of the state’s existing sales tax to water projects outlined in the bill (again, boosting dedicated state funding for water projects from approximately $8 million/year to approximately $50 million/year). 

This expanded funding would go toward:

  • Existing State Water Plan Fund priorities 
  • $5 million/year to a Water Technical Assistance Fund
  • $15 million/year to a Water Projects Grant Fund
  • $15 million/year to pay off debt for Milford and Perry Lake reservoirs 
  • To improve salaries of state workers implementing water programs (current salaries are not competitive, resulting in staff shortages, delays in programs, etc).

There are specifics in the bill on where these monies will go, but if passed, there would be significant new money for infrastructure projects for municipalities, with priority to small municipalities. 

This expanded funding would sunset after 5 years, unless the legislature takes action to extend it.

The bill is awaiting consideration by the Senate Agriculture / Natural Resources Committee. Hopefully next week. 

Categories
GMD Groundwater Legislature

House Committee on Water Considers GMD Bill

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.

KGS' Estimated Usable Life Map with Q-stable values 2022

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.

Categories
Legislature Ogallala

House Committee on Water Briefed on DWR Duties and Groundwater Management

This issue overviews the past week’s hearings of House Committee on Water (HCOW), what is coming this week, and announces a new KWRC page for Kansas water news stories in the media. Thursday’s (1/12) HCOW hearing featured former Kansas Chief Engineer David Barfield providing an overview of the responsibilities of the state’s Division of Water Resources and the state’s actions to address declines in the Ogallala Aquifer.

Kansas legislature on groundwater management hearing

House Committee on Water: last week’s hearing and the week ahead

The HCOW met on Tuesday, 1/10/2023, for introductions and discussion of committee rules. 

At the Chairman’s invitation, I addressed the committee for its Thursday hearing (1/12/2023). My topics included overviews of the responsibilities of the Division of Water Resources and its Chief Engineer, the Kansas Water Appropriation Act, the State’s Groundwater Management District Act, the status of the Ogallala Aquifer, actions to reduce groundwater declines (LEMAs, WCAs), and overviewing last session’s Mega-Water Bill (HB 2686). 

Link to a video of my 90 minutes presentation to the committee: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcWxCAbHRkA.  

My PowerPoint available on HCOW page at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2023_24/committees/ctte_h_water_1/documents/?date_choice=2023-01-12.

As the presentation, with Committee questions, is 90 minutes long, here is an outline of timestamps and topics:

  • 0:00 to 0:40 – Chair opens committee, one bill introduction.
  • 0:40-4:25 – My introduction (a bit about myself; overview of the presentation). 
  • 4:25-6:55 – Kansas water: essential, limited, variable.
  • 6:55-9:50 – Water agencies and coordination. 
  • 9:50-21:45 – Duties of DWR and its Chief Engineer; brief interstate overview; Kansas Water Appropriation Act (KWAA, 1945); subsequent water development, Kansas use of water, resulting reductions in streamflow and groundwater depletion; amendments of the KWAA and other related acts. 
  • 21:45-34:05 – Groundwater management: the 1972 GMD Act and 1978 amendments to the KWAA and GMD Act; IGUCAs; GMD accomplishments (prior to 2012).  
  • 34:05-1:06:30 – Groundwater management, 2012 to current: LEMAs and WCAs. 
    • 35:20-44:10 – Northwest KS GMD 4: the LEMA initiator; Sheridan 6 LEMA and its performance; GMD 4 LEMA. 
    • 44:10-50:15 – non-regulatory options to address declines; WCAs.
    • 50:15-58:20 – Western KS GMD 1; the Wichita County WCA; the Wichita County and Four County LEMAs.
    • 58:20-1:06:30 – Southwest KS GMD 3; Questions on enforcement; MYFAs. 
  • 1:06:30-1:14:40 – HB 2686 of 2022 with an overview and particulars on DWR and it Chief Engineer and groundwater management provisions. 
  • 1:14:40 – Committee questions

House Committee on Water’s Agenda for the week of 1/17/2023

  • 1/17/2023 – Kansas Water Office briefing 
  • 1/19/2022- Briefings by KDA-Division of Water Resources and the Kansas Geological Survey.

KWRC Kansas Water News page

As a result of the acceleration of Kansas water news, we have started a new page to archive key news stories at: https://kwrconsulting.com/blog/kansas-water-news/. It includes 11 stories from 2022 and already has two articles from 2023, the first on action by Western Kansas GMD 1 to reduce wateruse, and a second on the anticipated confrontation ahead as the Legislature considers action to address Ogallala Aquifer declines. 

Categories
Legislature Water Legislation

House Committee on Water begins this week with new leadership 

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: 
http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2023_24/committees/ctte_h_water_1/

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. 

House Committee on Water (HCOW)
Categories
Legislature

2022 Special Committee on Water, August 29-30, 2022

Introduction: 

After the 2022 legislative session’s mega-water bill went nowhere, the chair of the House Committee on Water, retiring Rep. Ron Highland, requested a 2 two-day interim committee on water issues to continue discussions. Below are a few highlights from these hearings, held on August 29-30 in Topeka, called the “Special Committee on Water”, composed of both Senators and House members and links to documents and presentations. 

The short summary: 

As the Special Committee had new members from the Senate and House, the two days were principally a primer for new members, comprised of key briefings from the state water agencies dealing with water issues. The “committee discussions” held after these briefings on the second day were very short and disappointing as they did little to move forward the Legislature’s discussion of these critical water issues.

The details:  

The rest of this article is mostly an index and links to the presentations made to the committee, with a few concluding comments on the Legislature’s 2021-22 work. For anyone wanting a primer on the major water agencies dealing with water in Kansas, the responsibilities, and current happenings, this is a good place to start. There are links to the YouTube videos of the sessions as well as the presentations.  I have indicated the time stamp on the YouTube video when each presentation starts.

For those interested in the Ogallala aquifer, DWR’s presentation and the two KGS presentations are worth a listen. 

Here is a link to the agenda for the two days of meetings, which includes links to the videos of the sessions: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/committees/ctte_spc_2022_water_1/documents/agenda/weeklyinterim/20220829.pdf
Links to the individual presentations are available at: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/committees/ctte_spc_2022_water_1/documents/. I have included the specific links to most of them below. 

Day 1 on August 292020 included a few introductory matters and then a series of select state agency updates, providing an overview of state laws and programs to address water issues.   

Introductory matters:

Agency updates (note: I have indicated the time on the video where the presentation starts):

Then two presentations by the Kansas Geological Survey, focusing on the Ogallala aquifer: 

The day concluded with a brief state agency funding overview: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/committees/ctte_spc_2022_water_1/documents/testimony/20220829_16.pdf

Day 2 on August 30 started with a presentation by Prof. Burke Griggs, which stressed his opinions on the shortcomings of Kansas state water laws and their administration and his recommendations for rectifying these.  http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/committees/ctte_spc_2022_water_1/documents/testimony/20220830_03.pdf

This was followed by a presentation by Rep. Joe Newland, entitled “Overview of Financial Plan” which talked about funding recommendations of the 2016 Blue Ribbon Task Force, which focused on a dedication of a 1/10 of one cent of the state’s sales tax to water funding.  See: https://www.kwo.ks.gov/water-plan/blue-ribbon-funding-task-force.

Committee (non-) Discussions

Finally, the Committee’s agenda include a time for Committee discussions, an hour and a half in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. However, it seemed discussions were not encouraged. There was approx. 30 minutes of discussions on funding centered on challenges of securing funding via a portion of the State’s sales tax and the possibility of a small fee on sales of bottled water.

Brief reflections on the Legislative discussions of 2021-22 and current needs

While there seems to be significant consensus among those knowledgeable in water matters that there is a need for change, esp. expanded funding and improvements in state agency structure and/or coordination, there is no consensus on the specifics.  As is noted at the beginning of the article, the committee discussions were disappointing, in that there was no movement toward any consensus on these issues. It seems without strong leadership, consensus on these specifics will be impossible to reach. 

As someone who has worked almost all my career in state government in water, I have never really thought the system was broken. Each agency has its mission, staffing, and programs to carry its duties. I have not observed much conflict and there have always been coordinating mechanism to help agencies work together.

However, Rep. Highland strongly advocated for a single voice for water in the legislature, believing it to be a key in securing additional focus, coordination, and ultimately, more funding needed to address water issues. Over the course of the last legislative session, listening to all the agency reports to address water, I have become convinced that a single voice is needed. 

In addition, it is time to replace the 2016 Blue Ribbon Task Force’s recommendation on funding with an updated look at today’s and tomorrow’s needs and opportunities. 

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
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
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.