Saturday, December 20, 2014

HAWVER: Do we care about Western Kansas’ water?

By MARTIN HAWVER, At the Rail | 11/25/2013

Ever have one of those ideas so big, complicated and distracting that you don’t notice the hamburgers burning on the grill?

Well, we’ve got one running around the Statehouse: The concept of securing the rights to millions of gallons of water from the Missouri River — you might know it as the ragged northeast border of Kansas — and building a 340-mile long aqueduct with more than a dozen pumping stations to move the water to western Kansas to inject into the shrinking Ogallala Aquifer.

Ever have one of those ideas so big, complicated and distracting that you don’t notice the hamburgers burning on the grill?

Well, we’ve got one running around the Statehouse: The concept of securing the rights to millions of gallons of water from the Missouri River — you might know it as the ragged northeast border of Kansas — and building a 340-mile long aqueduct with more than a dozen pumping stations to move the water to western Kansas to inject into the shrinking Ogallala Aquifer.

How’s that for a project? First getting the rights to the water, and then constructing a gigantic aqueduct that would have most of the world rethinking what “great” means. That’s “great” as in the Great Pyramids, which would become “pretty nice pyramids,” or the Great Wall of China, which would be demoted to “a pretty cool wall those Chinese guys built.”

It’s almost too big to get your mind around ... if you spend most of your time in the Statehouse. But the concept is one that ought to at least be talked about.

Western Kansas, always dry, is seeing the seminal underground water pool shrink — which means less, and at some point, no water for crops, for livestock, for drinking and for flushing. Not right away, but in the foreseeable future.

We’ve preserved the aquifer as best we can with laws regulating use of that vital resource, but practically the aquifer is drying out.

It could be recharged with water from the Missouri River taken gingerly so as not to hinder barge traffic on the Mississippi, but with authority by the state claiming ownership rights to parts of that Missouri flow.

Boy, this idea goes a lot of ways ... securing the water rights to the giant multi-billion dollar construction project crossing more than a dozen counties. But, can you imagine the impact of securing water for western Kansas, where water is the life blood of the region?

And, can you imagine more than a dozen county commissions planning for rights-of-way for the aqueduct, the county roads and state highways that will need bridges, and how school buses get to the children and back to schools?

How about this: Would those miles of aqueduct banks (edges?) be the place you’d like a home, or will the aqueduct be deep enough that you could boat, or maybe just kayak or canoe on it?

Will eastern Kansans, and its legislators, see the advantage of keeping western Kansas and its ag and meat-processing and dairy industries growing? Or, are we pretty sure that if Johnson County residents can get enough water for their lattes that they won’t worry much if western Kansas farmers have to fetch bottled water for their livestock?

Do you want the aqueduct to go through your field, or beside the highway? Will someone decide to put up a restaurant or strip joint beside the aqueduct?

Lots of things to think about. Lots of ways for this idea to go.

It just better be decided before the Legislature is reapportioned again. Oh, and please watch the grill ...

Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report. Visit his Web site at www.hawvernews.com

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