Across much of the western part of the state, conversations are happening about what to do about the future of water.
It’s an overdue conversation in an area that relies heavily on the declining reserves of the Ogallala Aquifer for its economic prosperity. In some areas, the decline of the aquifer has been dramatic – with the water level dropping more than 70 to 80 feet in some parts of Kearny and Finney Counties.
The concern has brought people together to talk about an option that has shown promise in Sheridan and Thomas Counties, after organizers there launched in 2013 a 99-square mile Local Enhanced Management Area that has stabilized water levels.
Under a LEMA, local water users agree to self-imposed restrictions that are “enhanced” beyond restrictions in place by the local groundwater management districts, or the state.
In Thomas and Sheridan Counties, users agreed to reduce their water use by 20 percent over five years.
The program there has been successful enough, local stakeholders will seek to renew the structure.
The issue of water, particularly in western Kansas, is critical and these conversations are likewise important.
On the issue of water, Gov. Sam Brownback deserves credit for spearheading initiatives to bring the topic to the fore, and launching an effort to gather information and concerns from throughout the state. Likewise, the local leaders who have taken the courageous steps to raise questions about the value and cost of a decades’ old mentality that water, essentially, is a limitless resource, play an important role in developing sustainable solutions for the future.
“This small group of farmers is just trying to get the conversation started,” said Troy Dumler, manager of the Garden City Company, which is involved in the LEMA conversation. “I think, from our point of view, you don’t want to say 10 years down the road ‘I wish we would have discussed this 10 years ago.’ “
Encour-agingly, a meeting Wednesday revealed support for the formation of a LEMA and its efforts to reduce water usage and extend the life of the aquifer.
Hopefully, the conversations about preservation continue, along with sound work to implement ideas to prolong the aquifer’s useful life, will continue.
Tools like LEMA serve the overall good of the region, while allowing local users – who have a vested interest in the aquifer’s use and preservation – to pre-empt harsher regulations once later on, when the resource has possibly been depleted beyond repair.
Jason Probst, for The Hutchinson News editorial board