Western Kansas Groundwater Management District No. 1 (GMD 1) covers parts of five counties in western Kansas (Lane, Scott, Wichita, Greeley and Wallace Counties) over the Ogallala Aquifer. The GMD has experienced very significant reductions in saturated thickness, resulting about one-half of the irrigation wells no longer being used.
Yet, the Ogallala Aquifer continues to be a very important source of water for both irrigation and the significant economic activity associated with animal agriculture (feed yards, dairies, and such) attracted by the region’s feed availability, favorable climate, and remoteness.
While there have been significant changes to irrigation over the decades to improve irrigation efficiencies, the declines in the aquifer continue.
Local Enhanced Management Area (LEMAs)
Groundwater declines in Kansas’ Ogallala Aquifer have been a concern for many decades, prompting the Kansas Legislature to pass its Groundwater Management District (GMD) Act in 1972 and amendments to both the Kansas Water Appropriation Act and GMD Act in 1978 to require all wateruse in Kansas, except domestic use, to be permitted by the Chief Engineer of the Division of Water Resources and to allow for a process to create special areas called Intensive Groundwater Use Control Areas (IGUCAs) to reduce use in over-developed areas. Through action of the GMDs and Chief Engineer, all of western Kansas has been closed to new water appropriations.
While eight IGUCAs have been created, none are in the Ogallala Aquifer. One concern preventing GMDs from requesting the Chief Engineer to initiate IGUCA proceedings in their areas of concern is that the decision on reductions in use is left to the Chief Engineer based on the hearing record.
In 2012, the Kansas Legislature amended the GMD Act to allow for a process to create another type of special area to reduce use in over-developed areas called Local Enhanced Management Area (LEMAs). Under its process, a GMD develops a specific proposal for reducing groundwater declines in all or parts of their District and the Chief Engineer conducts hearings to determine if their Plan should be adopted. If adopted, it becomes an order of the Chief Engineer. LEMAs typically include elements of flexibility in the use of allocations to reduce the impact of water use reductions, such as multi-year and group allocations. For more information, see DWR’s website at: https://www.agriculture.ks.gov/lema.
Three LEMAs have been implemented to date: the Sheridan 6 LEMA and GMD4 LEMA of Northwest Kansas, and the Wichita County LEMA within GMD 1. Again, see the website noted above for details on these LEMAs.
GMD 1’s Four County LEMA development
GMD 1 made an initial attempt to develop a District-wide LEMA during 2013-14 after the Sheridan 6 LEMA noted above was created. However, after significant work with its constituents, the GMD 1 Board determined their LEMA Plan did not have sufficient support to move forward.
The GMD 1 Board again discussed a District-wide LEMA in 2018-19. In 2019, the Board deciding to move forward first with a LEMA in Wichita County as the county’s need was the most urgent and had the most support, and to gain experience with the LEMA process. The Wichita County LEMA plan was submitted to the Chief Engineer early in 2020 and approved after the two required hearings, effective for the years 2021-25.
The Board’s work of developing the proposed Four County LEMA Plan began during November 2020. The LEMA work has been discussed at most of the Board’s monthly meetings since that time, as well as multiple special meetings. Further, the Board has worked with its constituents through a detailed survey of wateruser preferences, the sharing of details of its LEMA development at its 2021 and 2022 annual meetings, and at county meetings during May 2022.
After careful study, the Board decided to pursue a LEMA reduction goal that would balance meeting today’s needs without causing significant economic effects, while taking a serious step to extend the water resources of the District. The Board reviewed current estimates of the Kansas Geological Survey (KGS) of the required reductions to stabilize groundwater levels, averaging 29% for the District. Ultimately the Board decided to set the LEMA’s overall reduction goal to 10% from the 2011-2020 average wateruse.
The Four County LEMA Plan, if adopted, would require irrigation waterusers within the LEMA to reduce pumping to extend the life of the Ogallala Aquifer. Required reductions would vary from 0 to 25%, with larger reductions for larger wateruse and lesser reductions for smaller wateruse, again with an overall reduction of 10%. The LEMA Plan also includes significant flexibilities to allow waterusers to make best use of their allocations as well as a robust appeal process to consider past voluntary conservation in the wateruse records used as a basis for allocation. The LEMA plan, if adopted, would be in effect for years 2023 to 2027.
The path to implementation of the GMD 1’s Four County LEMA
On July 1, 2022, the GMD 1 Board submitted its Four County LEMA plan for the remainder of GMD 1 to the Chief Engineer for consideration.
On August 4, 2022, the Chief Engineer, pursuant to statutory requirements, found the Proposed LEMA Plan “acceptable for consideration.”
To be implemented by order of the Chief Engineer, two public hearings are required. Over the next couple of weeks, the Chief Engineer will work with GMD1 to determine the date and location of the first hearing, to be held early fall.
For more information
The District’s website at https://www.gmd1.org/lema/ includes a copy of the proposed LEMA plan and other pertinent information, including a frequently asked questions (FAQ) document that addresses common questions about the LEMA Plan.
Effected waterusers can contact the District office at 620-872-5563 to obtain an allocation report for their particular water rights.