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.
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.