Friday, November 28, 2014

Water folly editorial

12/4/2013

The recent guest editorial by The Hutchinson News, republished in Saturday’s Herald, purporting the Kansas Aqueduct Project as a terrible solution for southwest Kansas water shortages was interesting. Setting aside the fact that the present work has state-wide purposes beyond the 1982 study, the opinion piece suggests Kansas should stay away from the expense of compact agreements that protect the interests of the state. And, if agreements are violated, don’t spend money enforcing them. The editorial writers believe irrigation-based agriculture is a waste of water, and that alleviating flooding should be at no expense to Kansans. The editorial itself might be fearfully uninformed and not helpful to Kansas interests.

Efficient water use provides effective economic value for Kansas. It is not waste when water is made available to those who are skilled in efficiently converting it into the abundant food and energy that most people value. There is a reason center pivot irrigated fields are in the Missouri River floodplain at White Cloud and all across Kansas. The annual economic value of irrigation to Kansas above dry land value may be in the trillions of dollars using recent figures from the Kansas Department of Agriculture. The world our Kansas kindergarten-age children soon will face when they graduate from high school might have an additional billion people to feed. Intensified irrigation-based agriculture in Kansas necessarily can play a key role in meeting that stewardship challenge.  

The recent guest editorial by The Hutchinson News, republished in Saturday’s Herald, purporting the Kansas Aqueduct Project as a terrible solution for southwest Kansas water shortages was interesting. Setting aside the fact that the present work has state-wide purposes beyond the 1982 study, the opinion piece suggests Kansas should stay away from the expense of compact agreements that protect the interests of the state. And, if agreements are violated, don’t spend money enforcing them. The editorial writers believe irrigation-based agriculture is a waste of water, and that alleviating flooding should be at no expense to Kansans. The editorial itself might be fearfully uninformed and not helpful to Kansas interests.

Efficient water use provides effective economic value for Kansas. It is not waste when water is made available to those who are skilled in efficiently converting it into the abundant food and energy that most people value. There is a reason center pivot irrigated fields are in the Missouri River floodplain at White Cloud and all across Kansas. The annual economic value of irrigation to Kansas above dry land value may be in the trillions of dollars using recent figures from the Kansas Department of Agriculture. The world our Kansas kindergarten-age children soon will face when they graduate from high school might have an additional billion people to feed. Intensified irrigation-based agriculture in Kansas necessarily can play a key role in meeting that stewardship challenge.  

Indeed, what might be irresponsible in Kansas water management and the true waste of water occurs annually as Kansas loses surface water runoff in rivers flowing to the Gulf of Mexico in an amount 15.5 times what is used from our aquifers. Conserving part of that lost renewable supply to sustain Kansas in a climate shifting future is a vital action to consider while Kansas still can.

Gov. Sam Brownback knows the huge Kansas economy that is based on unsustainable water sources and is encouraging local action for water conservation. His message also is for sustaining the water dependent economic benefits for Kansas. Big cuts to groundwater use without an alternative supply will only hasten a withering of the Kansas economy and displace whole communities.  

Big water costs for Kansas are inevitable in every water supply option, including doing nothing. The statewide conversation to evaluate a Kansas Aqueduct Project can weigh the costs and benefits to grow our neighborhood water interests and a statewide economy. We should be patient and intentional to review every option and try to inform any local confusion of what is water waste or fear of water folly.   

A wise visioning for Kansas water will necessarily include a careful study process in some derivative form of a Kansas Aqueduct Project. We encourage you to undertake some good water visioning outside of your water closet and consider how a portion of the wasted surface water may provide the good life you can imagine for your area of Kansas.

— Mark Rude,

executive director,

Southwest Kansas Groundwater

Management District No. 3,

Garden City

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