Archive for Thursday, October 19, 2006

What the candidates say

October 19, 2006

What do you think of the drawdown of the High Plains (sometimes called the Ogallala) aquifer? Is it a problem and how important? What have you done in the past to meet this challenge and what will you do in the future?

Jim Barnett: "As a farm kid and rural physician, the importance of water access is paramount to my campaign. Regardless of whether we are talking about aquifers or reservoirs, the importance of water access to both rural and urban Kansas will continue as long as there are farms in Kansas.

"I pledge to protect the High Plains aquifer to ensure that Kansans have access to this important resource. The future of our Kansas agricultural economy and many of our Kansas communities relies on the continued viability of our aquifer system.

"But access isn't enough - we cannot afford to be shortsighted in dealing with this complex issue. We need to protect western Kansas water resources and look to long-term solutions in technology and crops that will allow future generations of Kansans to enjoy the benefits of our aquifers.

"I am concerned with the drawdowns from Lake Perry outside Lawrence and the impact they have on recreation, but I am similarly concerned about the drawdowns from reservoirs like Cedar Bluff in western Kansas.

"Unfortunately, Kathleen Sebelius has displayed no interest in protecting communities like Cedar Bluff and the economically harmful effects of drawdowns. Kansans in the western part of the state have expressed deep concerns about the long-term consequences of the governor's policies. As governor, I will take my role as custodian of our surface and subsurface water resources very seriously."

Kathleen Sebelius: "Draw-down in the Ogallala aquifer is absolutely an issue in this state, not only for the agricultural economy but also livestock and energy production - these industries use a lot of water from the same part of the state.

"The Ogallala aquifer is a vast and very complex system that has been under heavy development since the mid-1940s. By the 1970s, it was clear some parts of the system could not sustain the amount of irrigation that was occurring. After 50 years of heavy irrigation, many parts of the aquifer are still in good condition; however, it is important to keep in mind that it is not possible to generalize about the whole system. Parts of it are in poor condition, and irrigation has been significantly reduced or completely eliminated.

"We have learned enough about the aquifer and its characteristics to design and implement a variety of programs to protect it in the future. In 2006, the Legislature approved my plan for the Water Transition Assistance Program, which provides assistance to farmers in distressed areas to voluntarily surrender water rights in order to return those areas to a sustainable level of irrigation.

"We now have a sophisticated management system in place to protect the aquifer. It is driven by good data and good science. There are three Groundwater Management Districts working with the state to ensure proper enforcement of rules and regulations. The state has closed much of the system to any new appropriations, and in those areas where new water rights are available, they are only being issued in amounts that can be permanently sustained.

"In addition to state interventions, water-right holders have done much on their own. For example, the efficiency of irrigation systems has been vastly improved over the last 20 years. In the early years, much of the water intended for crops evaporated before it hit the ground.

"Crop patterns are also changing. A great deal of cotton is now planted instead of corn. The cotton requires far less water than corn.

"Protecting and sustaining the Ogallala aquifer system for future generations is a serious challenge. As we move forward in the field of biosciences, dry-land farming and renewable wind energy, western Kansas life will remain preserved while it adapts to changing conditions. The combination of effective and regulatory programs and the creativity of agricultural leaders in the region makes me confident we are on the right track."

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