Kansas water plan envisions conservation, reservoir management, technology, new sources

Kansas unveiled its first draft of a "water vision" plan Tuesday that aims to ensure a reliable future supply for its citizens, warning that if the state doesn't act now its future is bleak.

Without action, the document contends, the Ogallala Aquifer will be 70 percent depleted within the next half a century and Kansas reservoirs will be 40 percent filled with sediment.

Kansas Water Office Director Tracy Streeter said the recent drought has been a "game changer" in making Kansans see what that future looks like.

"We scared ourselves a little bit with this last drought," he said. "We have seen communities where their water levels got dangerously low and they have had to take extraordinary measures. And I think that is also true with the irrigation community, they have seen irrigation being insufficient for meeting the crop needs during this drought. So I think they know — I think we all know — that we have to change our ways."

The ambitious four-pronged approach of the plan includes voluntary and involuntary conservation and more efficient reservoir management. It also draws on technological advancements in irrigation and plant varieties and development of new water sources.

The 46-page "preliminary discussion draft" released by the Kansas Water Office is essentially a compilation of all the suggestions it compiled after 160 meetings across the state. The agency plans a statewide tour starting July 7 to gather more public input about its draft.

Among its aims is for Kansas to reduce its statewide water consumption by 20 percent by 2065.

While outlining more than 170 generalized "strategies" garnered from the public for doing that, the proposal contains no cost estimates. Officials decided not to get into financial strategies in this initial draft: "Lead with the need, the money will follow," said Susan Metzger, policy chief at the Kansas Water Office.

The conservation efforts target education programs for students in grades K-12 and youth organizations as well as adult outreach through university extension services and other academic programs. The plan suggests evaluating state water rate structures with a view on how they affect conservation. Other recommendations include building or renovating state-owned facilities to meet stricter water efficiency standards, and more assistance to fix leaks in public water supply systems.

"No matter what we do, conservation has to be a common denominator. ... I just hope that the public meetings and subsequent conversations just strengthen that notion that we really have to change our culture in Kansas, that we need to be more conservative with our water resources," Streeter said.

The water management piece of the plan deals with operating Kansas reservoirs more efficiently. It also raises the possibility of modifying flows on the Kansas River to save water stored in the Tuttle Creek, Milford and Perry reservoirs.

Another major thrust of the plan involves the promotion new technologies for more efficient crop irrigation. Other suggestions include greater adoption of less water-intensive crops such as sorghum and more drought-resistant grasses such as triticale.

The section on finding new sources of water suggests exploring using lower-quality sources of water — such as treated wastewater effluent and runoff from confined animal feeding operations — for irrigation.



Kansas Water Office: www.kwo.org