Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Water, We Will Have a Plan

I am writing this in the middle of what seems like monsoon season. For the past couple of weeks we have gotten rain about every two to three days and the weather pattern doesn’t seem to be changing in the near future. Yesterday I was asked if we had gotten too much rain. My response was that it was a lot easier to figure out what I am going to do about too much rain rather than too little.
I know this can all change in the blink of an eye and in two weeks we will all be worried about when our next rain will come. I have heard many people compare this year to another. You know the old well in 1974 it rained every day for three weeks and then it quit until December. The truth of the matter is that we have no idea when our rains are coming or shutting off, even those paid to tell us what the weather is going to do.
The best thing about this period of wet weather is that Western Kansas has also gotten some beneficial moisture. I know the drought is not broken there and it did nothing to help the wheat crop but I am sure that the rain helped to boost morale. Isn’t it funny how something we cannot control has such a grip on our outlook on life? The bottom line is that water whether too much or too little can have that effect on us?
I have had the opportunity to be a part of sending some recommendations to Governor Brownback for his water plan. Specifically we were asked to address the declining Ogallala Aquifer and the silting in of our federal reservoirs. On the surface it seemed like a fairly easy exercise but in reality it was a monumental, utterly complex undertaking. In all of this I realized that water issues will probably be our biggest problem in the years to come.
The depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer is the most controversial. The quick, easy answer for those of us not using the aquifer is to shut it down. After all, it is declining and in a matter of some years probably will be gone. It is not that easy. Sure if we had known fifty or sixty years ago what we know now we probably would have handled it a little differently, but what can’t we say that about. The truth is that the Ogallala is the lifeblood of an entire portion of our state and it affects much more that production agriculture.
The entire economy of Western Kansas is dependent on pumping water out of the aquifer and each part of the economy is dependent on the other. Farmers, feedlots, dairies, processing plants, and even the municipalities are all inter-dependant and all rely on the water stored in the aquifer for survival. Take away one segment and you will cripple the others. It is a very, very complex and highly charged debate over what to do.
Then there is the equally complex dilemma of what to do with our federal reservoirs and their silt problems. Dredging them out seems to be an easy enough solution until you really think about it. We are not exactly flush with money right now and it will take an unimaginable amount to do the job right. That does not even take in account the massive amount of silt and how to dispose of it. Silt can be spread out on agriculture grounds but in very small quantities and with an equally high cost. Restoring our federal reservoirs will be an engineering feat of historical proportions.
All of this seems to be very daunting and after a massive amount of input from a lot people from every segment of our population I am sure a water plan will be formed. I am also sure that following the formulation of this plan unexpected problems and issues will appear.  Does this make the process of formulating the plan useless?  The answer is no, it has started us down the road of thinking about and addressing some of the most important and complex issues we will ever face. I am equally sure that we will find solutions and most of them have not even been developed or even thought of yet. We will find answers that will not only address the problem but make us better stewards of our limited water and more efficient producers of the food we all need.

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