While concerns remain, a show of hands during Wednesday’s informational meeting in Garden City about a proposal to form a local management plan to address groundwater concerns indicated a majority of the 90-some farmers and producers in attendance generally agreed something should be done to extend the life of water resources.
Local water right owners in northern Finney and Kearny counties are seeking ways to reduce the rate of decline in the Ogallala Aquifer in the region, which has seen declines of more than 70 feet in the over the past 10 years.
A steering committee of about a dozen farmers has met frequently over the past several months about creating a Kearny Finney LEMA, or Local Enhanced Management Area, in a swath north of the Arkansas River in Finney and Kearny counties from Lakin to Garden City.
Steering committee members spent a couple of hours Wednesday presenting their proposed Kearny Finney LEMA with an eye toward gathering input and buy-in from producers.
Dwane Roth, a Holcomb farmer and steering committee member, said members all have irrigation wells ranging in capacity from 200 gallons per minute to 1,200 gpm.
“We all have wells that are depleting,” he said. “Basically, all of us know each other. We’re competitors, but also neighbors. We’re trying to come up with a formula or some way we can reduce our water longevity. We all have succession plans. We want to do that same thing with water. We want to be able to have sustainability of water for the future.”
According to a handout, if adopted, the proposed LEMA will restrict all appropriated water rights within its boundaries to extend the usable water supplies throughout the region. LEMA allocations for a five-year period for irrigation use would be calculated based on a reduction of 15 percent from historical usage from 2006 to 2015. The reductions would only be assessed to groundwater rights.
DWR estimated a 10 percent reduction in average use would slow the aquifer water level decline by 38 percent.
Vested rights would be encouraged to participate voluntarily and non-irrigation users would be encouraged to implement conservation plans. It also would seek to put in place a process to give consideration to irrigators’ past conservation efforts.
Irrigation makes up 94 percent of the reported water use within the proposed LEMA boundaries, and therefore provides the greatest opportunity for conservation. Other non-irrigation uses such as stock water, municipal, industrial and recreation will be encouraged to conform to written conservation plans and voluntarily reduce water use where feasible.
Mike Standley, a steering committee member, said committee members don’t agree on every aspect of the proposal, but it’s as close as they have come so far to a consensus.
“This is a work in progress,” he said. “The goal is to make this a plan everybody can follow. We don’t want to make it to where it cuts people’s income ... but have the flexibility to continue to do what you’re doing.”
Standley said the steering committee has discussed several different plans, including ones with 20 and 25 percent reductions and a phased in approach, before choosing to bring forward the 15 percent reduction plan for consideration.
Mike Meyer, with the Division of Water Resources, said a LEMA can provide flexibilities that allow irrigators to adapt or change and to “basically control your destiny within this time period and plan for the future.”
Under the proposal, a five-year water allocation would be calculated for each well based on its usage between 2006 and 2015, factoring in the proposed 15 percent reduction, essentially creating a savings account for that five-year period. Instead of a fixed, per-year allocation, Meyer said, the proposal’s flexibility allows an irrigator to use more water one year and less in another, so long as they don’t exceed that overall five-year allocation.