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Kansas Water Office releases 2022 Water Plan

This road map is the first comprehensive water plan for the state of Kansas released since 2009.

Jennifer M. Latzke

October 31, 2022

4 Min Read
Pivot irrigation system in field
WATER PLAN: The Kansas Water Office released the final 2022 Kansas Water Plan Oct. 20. The plan is a road map for the state’s stakeholders in management, conservation and development of Kansas water resources going forward. All options — like this irrigation pivot testing new technologies for water conservation — are put on the table to ensure that future Kansans have water to meet their needs. Jennifer M. Latzke

Drive east to west across Kansas, and you’ll see the full spectrum of water challenges in the state. We have sedimentation in our state’s reservoirs, extreme drought, dwindling aquifers and more. Many of these challenges, if left unchecked, can lead to severe, long-term consequences that would endanger the public health and the general welfare of Kansans.

“The drought conditions throughout the state drive home the importance of having a comprehensive plan,” said Connie Owen, Kansas Water Office director. “Water is the most valuable resources we have, and we must manage it strategically to ensure a safe and secure supply now and for the future.”

Road map

The State Water Resources Planning Act mandates a comprehensive, coordinated and continuous adaptive planning process, resulting in the Kansas Water Plan. The Kansas Water Plan, by law, must provide for the management, conservation and development of the water resources of the state. This 2022 Kansas Water Plan is the first comprehensive water plan released since 2009.

There are five guiding principles named in the plan — conserve and extend the High Plains Aquifer; secure, protect and restore our Kansas reservoirs; improve the state’s water quality; reduce our vulnerability to extreme events; and increase awareness of Kansas water resources.

High Plains Aquifer

Topping the water plan’s list is the High Plains Aquifer, which has three components in Kansas: the Ogallala Aquifer, the Great Bend Prairie Aquifer and the Equus Beds Aquifer. These underground water sources serve as the primary water supply for much of central Kansas and most of western Kansas. According to the water plan, of these three, the Ogallala is suffering the most severe depletion, with some areas already effectively dry in terms of economic feasibility.

“It is not an overstatement to say that the future of habitability in much of western Kansas is at stake; water users of all kinds will need to adopt practices using less groundwater if these populations and economies are to remain viable,” according to the plan’s authors. 

More water is withdrawn from the High Plains Aquifer system than the system can supply. Even with the system closed to new appropriations, there are more permits approved than can be supplied. There are more than 35,000 wells with active water rights in Kansas, with more than 27,000 over the HPA, and 87% of those are used for irrigation, according to the Water Plan. Water levels over the Ogallala have dropped to less than 40% of the original saturated thickness left, and some areas have no more than 20 years of water remaining if pumping continues at current rates. Other parts in west-central Kansas have already reached the point of no return, according to the water plan, and irrigated land has now been converted to dryland crops or grazing.

According to the water plan, “An inherent complication is the fact that these withdrawals are authorized by approved permits which have matured into water rights. Water rights are real property rights, so the matter of achieving reduced groundwater use is not a simple one. There are a number of voluntary cost-share and/or incentive-based programs to persuade (mostly agricultural) users to use less water.”

The plan outlines current management approaches, including: Local Enhanced Management Areas; Water Conservation Areas; Intensive Groundwater Use Control Areas; Water Technology Farms to demonstrate new tools; the Playa Lakes Joint Venture to help recharge rates; and public-private partnerships to conserve, among others.

Among the recommended strategies, the plan proposes working with farmers, crop consultants, crop insurance, banking and property valuators to promote conservation of water — whether through different cropping strategies with less water-intensive crops, or encouraging soil health and carbon sequestration practices and partnerships.

Reservoirs

More than two-thirds of the state’s population relies on Kansas reservoirs for their water supply. Those reservoirs also provide recreation opportunities, resulting in millions of dollars of economic benefits to communities. But, we’re losing storage capacity to sedimentation in those reservoirs. And harmful algal bloom events, like the toxic blue-green algae, can restrict the use of reservoirs, too.

The plan calls for innovative in-lake sediment management measures, including supporting watershed conservation practices like soil health initiatives, streambank stabilization, and riparian corridor restoration to keep sedimentation out. It also calls for working with federal partners to cost-share the funding of these and other efforts.

Input

The Kansas Water Plan is created by the Kansas Water Office with input from partner agencies and 14 Regional Advisory Committees. Details on each of the RACs and their specific concerns can be found in the 261-page water plan.

The finalization of the plan leads into the implementation phase, where the Kansas Water Office will work with other state agencies and Regional Advisory Committees across the state to address the principles outlined in the KWP. Implementation is supported by the State Water Plan Fund, a statutory mechanism created to pay for the projects and programs identified in the KWP. This year, two statutory transfers into the fund were fully provided for the first time since 2008.

Download the full 2022 Kansas Water Plan.

Source: Kansas Water Office contributed to this article.

 

About the Author(s)

Jennifer M. Latzke

Editor, Kansas Farmer

Through all her travels, Jennifer M. Latzke knows that there is no place like Kansas.

Jennifer grew up on her family’s multigenerational registered Angus seedstock ranch and diversified farm just north of Woodbine, Kan., about 30 minutes south of Junction City on the edge of the Kansas Flint Hills. Rock Springs Ranch State 4-H Center was in her family’s backyard.

While at Kansas State University, Jennifer was a member of the Sigma Kappa Sorority and a national officer for the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. She graduated in May 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications and a minor in animal science. In August 2000 Jennifer started her 20-year agricultural writing career in Dodge City, Kan., on the far southwest corner of the state.

She’s traveled across the U.S. writing on wheat, sorghum, corn, cotton, dairy and beef stories as well as breaking news and policy at the local, state and national levels. Latzke has traveled across Mexico and South America with the U.S. Wheat Associates and toured Vietnam as a member of KARL Class X. She’s traveled to Argentina as one of 10 IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Agricultural Journalism. And she was part of a delegation of AAEA: The Ag Communicators Network members invited to Cuba.

Jennifer’s an award-winning writer, columnist, and podcaster, recognized by the Kansas Professional Communicators, Kansas Press Association, the National Federation of Presswomen, Livestock Publications Council, and AAEA. In 2019, Jennifer reached the pinnacle of achievements, earning the title of “Writer of Merit” from AAEA.

Trips and accolades are lovely, but Jennifer says she is happiest on the road talking to farmers and ranchers and gathering stories and photos to share with readers.

“It’s an honor and a great responsibility to be able to tell someone’s story and bring them recognition for their work on the land,” Jennifer says. “But my role is also evolving to help our more urban neighbors understand the issues our Kansas farmers face in bringing the food and fiber to their store shelves.”

She spends her time gardening, crafting, watching K-State football, and cheering on her nephews and niece in their 4-H projects. She can be found on Twitter at @Latzke.

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