Fresh on the heels of a quarter-inch of rain the night before, more than 60 farmers, irrigators and Colby Community College students watched as Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill that allows for creation of local enhanced management areas, referred to as LEMAs. This new tool is intended to encourage more local action on saving water.
This legislation signed by Brownback allows local irrigators to collectively decide their future by initiating their own conservation plans to meet local guidelines.
It was only fitting Gov. Brownback traveled to Colby in northwestern Kansas for the bill signing intended to conserve the state’s water supply and extend the life of the vital Ogallala Aquifer. Farmers in this region of the state began irrigating in the early ‘50s.
Irrigators of the Sheridan County Six were also in attendance. Members of this group, along with Wayne Bossert, manager of Groundwater Management District (GMD) No. 4 in Colby, pioneered the LEMA plan. They are considering a proposal that could reduce irrigation water use by approximately 20 percent throughout a five-year period.
“We must conserve our water so we can extend the useful life of the Ogallala Aquifer,” Brownback told those attending. “This tool allows Kansans to join together and offer up ideas that work on the local level. It allows them to work together on behalf of their children and grandchildren to provide solutions that will save water for the next generation.”
Moving forward, irrigators in the GMDs will now have an enhanced management/conservation option they can use and not be afraid of other things that might happen to them if they start to address their resource concerns in a formal way, GMD manager Bossert says.
“We believe this new approach will change the water conservation paradigm in the groundwater regions of Kansas,” he adds. “But we’ll have to wait and see how the local water users start to develop and use this new authority.”
Local farmers and their organizations demonstrated the vision to re-work the status quo to deal with the aquifer’s decline. Tools like LEMA now provide Kansas irrigation farmers the ability to make intelligent use of the remaining water.
Additional tools including flex accounts, water banks and the extension of the Water Transition Assistance Program were also signed into law during the 2012 session. All will help with efforts to continue conserving and extending the life of the Ogallala Aquifer.
Kansas agriculture remains the economic key to vitality in Kansas, and water is vital for agricultural production. These steps will benefit farmers today and help sustain this valuable water resource for future generations.
— John Schlageck is a commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. He was born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas.