Western Kansas voters say no to water conservation program

Jun 23, 2014

A center-pivot irrigation system in Trego County.
A center-pivot irrigation system in Trego County.
Credit kgs.ku.edu

Water rights holders in Western Kansas counties recently rejected a plan to conserve the Ogallala Aquifer.  Groundwater Management District No. 1 board members asked its voting membership to approve a measure to that would cut irrigation use by 20 percent reported Amy Bickel for Kansas Agland.

The purpose of the idea is to try to extend the life of the Ogallala.  The aquifer has transformed semi-arid western Kansas into an economic oasis of corn fields, feed yards and other livestock operations. 

The district includes Greeley, Lane, Scott, Wallace, and Wichita counties.  The area has seen significant and continued depletion of the aquifer.  The program is known as a Local Enhanced Management Area or LEMA.

The water district has 1,100 water rights holders.  Most are farmers.  Each person holding a water right was eligible to vote.

Here’s how the votes tallied according to Circle of Blue:

Credit circle of blue

“I am somewhat disappointed, yes,” says Scott County representative on the board, Bob Hoeme. “I thought it would be closer to passing than that.”

Hoeme farms in Scott County.  He says his own wells are only pumping at 60 percent of what they did when he took them over in the 1970s. In April, he said rather than follow a state mandate, “we are attempting to do something on our own.”

Governor Sam Brownback’s vision for saving the underground water supply in Western Kansas will be revealed next month. 

The state’s first LEMA, Sheridan 6, was established in January 2013 in Sheridan County. The LEMA concept was partly designed to benefit Hoxie Feedyard, a massive economic force in the area. 

Further details about the failed measure are available from Circle of Blue and Kansas Agland.