Ag News -
Friday, 30 November 2012 14:15
By Mike Corn
Special to Kansas Agland
HOXIE -- Inside the Sheridan County Courthouse, irrigators urged implementation of a first-ever management area designed to reduce water withdrawals from the Ogallala aquifer by as much as 20 percent.
Outside, some center pivots that ultimately will be affected by the proposed local enhanced management plan were running full bore, replenishing the moisture in the soil in anticipation of the plan's implementation and water-use reduction.
There wasn't universal support for the plan, as one irrigator suggested cuts should cover the entire Northwest Kansas Groundwater Management District No. 4, which covers the Sheridan-6 high priority area included in the plan.
Another irrigator objected to part of the plan, that of letting farmers consolidate water use into a single well or transfer a water right from one location to another.
The LEMA plan -- the first requested in the wake of legislation earlier this year -- would reduce the use of Ogallala water by approximately 20 percent during its five-year life.
The LEMA could be extended, but that's a decision local irrigators would make.
Under the law, Division of Water Resources Chief Engineer David Barfield, who presided over the hearing, either can accept the proposal from the GMD, reject it outright or return it with suggestions.
At Wednesday's hearing, details of the proposal and the status of water in the district were discussed.
GMD Manager Wayne Bossert said the goal of the five-year program is to limit water withdrawals to approximately 114,000 acre-feet.
That's about 37 billion gallons of water.
At that rate, water use will drop by approximately 19 percent, Bossert said.
Irrigators would be limited to 11 acre-inches of water annually, no more than 55 inches during the course of the LEMA period. Livestock would be limited to 12 gallons per head each day, about what was being used at the time the LEMA plan was drawn up. Still, it's nearly 3 gallons less than what is allowed under state rules. About a fourth of the water used in the next five years would be for livestock.
There's a single recreational water use permit in the district, involving water in a pond, but it's only a small portion of the water use.
"The bottom line is we're going to stay within that 114,000," Bossert said of the acre-feet proposed for use.
While most of the testimony supported the plan, at least two irrigators expressed some reservations.
Gary Moss said he likes most details of the LEMA but thinks it should "be district-wide if we're serious about saving water."
He also urged limits on transferring water rights.
Harold Murphy's concerns with the plan involved transfers as well, worried water rights on small-capacity wells will be moved to areas that can pump more water.
That, in turn, he said, might increase water use in an area, lowering levels there.
Barfield now will have to decide if he will accept the LEMA proposal, something the GMD hopes will take effect by the first of the year. He has 120 days to issue an order.
"I'm hoping that first order certainly will be more timely than 120 days," he said.
It's possible Barfield could adopt the LEMA, issuing a more detailed order covering its provisions after the first of the year.
Written comments on the plan can be submitted until Dec. 4 and must be sent to the DWR.