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:
- Request an interim committee to continue the work of the committee, and
- 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.