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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • LV Times columnist: State's water troubles are mounting

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  • To his credit, Gov. Sam Brownback released a statement about the state of water in Kansas.
    "Water and the Kansas economy are directly linked," the governor said. "Water is a finite resource, and without further planning and action, we will no longer be able to meet our state's current needs, let alone growth."
    That is pretty dire, and since conservation of the resource would require cutting back on water use, unless Kansas gets a new source of water like more rain or an aquaduct from a better source, the future of the Kansas economy, let alone the population, is pretty bleak.
    According to documents from the Kansas Water Office, the Ogallala Aquifer is declining faster than it's recharging. Reservoirs that are critical water storage structures are filling with sediment.
    In 50 years, at the current rate of depletion, the aquifer will be 70 percent depleted and will not support irrigation wells. Since irrigated cropland in Kansas is valued at $5 billion, that would be a huge hit to the Kansas economy.
    With no action, our water supply in federal reservoirs will be 40 percent filled with sediment and five of the seven basins won't be able to meet demands during a drought.
    I was surprised to learn that two-thirds of Kansas relies on reservoirs for water and that 60 percent of electric production, at a value of nearly $2 billion, is at stake.
    A 50-year visioning team in a statement said, "He's right. The writing is on the wall and if we don't act today, our future is bleak. It will not be easy. Some believe it's too late to save the Ogallala. There are differing ideas about how to better manage reservoirs and surface water."
    The team refers several times to our vulnerability to extreme events like floods and droughts and I am not certain whether anyone is starting to think that maybe there is something to human-caused global climate change. That does not make a difference, though, as a drought is a drought, and if the world is not willing to pull back on the pedal if it is human caused, then it won't make a difference.
    Wow, that is some gloomy news.
    At some point on one of the pages of information on the website, the team mentions that it's still an economic advantage to continue to use the aquifer to make as much gain as possible until it finally does not support irrigation. That was basically the thought expressed by one agriculturist on a PBS show about the West.
    He said the water is in the ground for us to use and if we don't bring it to the surface, it won't come up on its own. So, we might as well use it until it runs out.
    Page 2 of 2 - Not all people in Kansas are at risk, though. Those of us who rely on the Missouri will likely have enough water for many generations.
    Our greatest threat is from floods, although a serious drought and lack of snow could make us hurt for water, even on the Kansas coastline. Actually, during the 1993 flood, virtually all of the communities along the river also had water problems because the flood wiped out access to wells.
    We live in such a balance and we hope that it will work out well.
    If you also enjoy reading about water in Kansas and might like to comment on it or even offer a suggestion to the committee, you can either attend one of the many public meetings or comment online.
    Just look for the Kansas Water Office.

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