The water game: East vs. West

Jul 30, 2014

Credit k-state.edu

One thing that mixes into the Kansas water debate is where you live.  I have a neighbor from eastern Kansas who works hard to get things that grow wild in pastures of her childhood home to simply survive in her western Kansas flower bed. 

As the water series winds down, Tim Unruh reports that this east vs. west issue is a core issue when trying to create a state-wide water program that works for everyone.  

Here’s an excerpt from Unruh’s article in the Salina Journal.

"There are definitely strong differences between the east and the west, in some cases, on what is considered the beneficial use of water," said Dave Brenn, of Lawrence, president and co-founder of the Kansas Water Congress.

Like many, he has watched the water economy in western Kansas unfold over many years, including a decade from the early 1970s to the early 1980s. That's when Brenn was the Haskell County Extension agent in southwest Kansas. He followed that with 20 years as an official with the Garden City Company, a large land holding company with about 30,000 acres in irrigation in Finney and Kearny counties.

Brenn, 64, retired from the Garden City Company in 2003 as senior vice president and general manager. He was appointed and reappointed by three Kansas governors to the Kansas-Colorado Arkansas River Compact Commission, served eight years on the Kansas Water Authority, and is a past member of the Southwest Kansas Groundwater Management District No. 3 board. From 2006 to 2011, Brenn also served as executive director of Groundwater Management District No. 1, based in Scott City.

Speaking only for himself, Breen said the only way to reach a resolution concerning the future of the Ogalalla Aquifer is to meet in the middle, "... as opposed to regulating the differences to death."

"We've got to respect current law, and if it isn't correct, there should be a mature approach to determine what to do."

Gary Baker, former director of Southwest Kansas Groundwater Management District No. 3, based in Garden City, said achieving "safe yield" would require shutting off nine out of every 10 wells in the region. He now works as a water right consultant and appraiser in Hugoton.

"We'd have to quit pumping," said Kirk Heger, of Hugoton, president of the Southwest Kansas Irrigation Association and a member of the GMD No. 3 board of directors.

Stevens County farmer Steve Rome e-mailed a comment after environmental groups weighed in for a June 1 Salina Journal story: "... The public wants water conservation but they have no skin in the game.

"It seems unfair for someone that has nothing invested to expect 'sustainability.' I wonder if most of the proponents of that concept have any idea what it would take to achieve that."

Rome and Heger contend that they've been able to reduce pumping over the years.

"It's never enough," Rome said, in a reaction to the first draft of the Governor's vision, which was released July 1 on the Kansas Water Office website.

"For the guy working at Boeing (in Wichita), does it affect him if I irrigate or not? I will contend that (irrigation in western Kansas) doesn't affect most of the people in Kansas," Rome said.

To suggest conservation when it's already in the works is an insult to irrigators who already are cutting back, Heger said.

Mary Fund, programs and policy director at the Kansas Rural Center, agrees that some fairness would be appropriate.

"We do have a tendency to penalize those who have been the good guys all along," she said.

"The state said, 'You can keep it local, but you have to take care of it.' Well, you didn't take care of it," Fund said. The water vision draft is "just kicking the can down the road," she said. "I'm interested in the long term."

During a public meeting July 9 in Assaria, Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Jackie McClaskey told the audience that "If we don't take action, we are going to have even more of an east-west clash that will be more difficult for us to manage."

The complete piece is available from the Salina Journal