The sixth annual Governor’s Water Conference was held November 8-9, 2017 at the Hilton Garden Inn & Conference Center in Manhattan, Kansas.
This year’s ‘Be the Vision’ award recipients were honored for taking extraordinary measures to conserve, reuse or adopt better practices to help ensure the future availability of our state’s water resources. This year’s recipients were the City of Wichita for their innovative stormwater best management practice implementation program; the Lower Smoky Access District – agriculture and municipal partnership; the Wichita County Water Conservation Area, and the Dwane Roth Family for their leadership in conservation efforts over the Ogallala. Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer was on hand to help with the award presentation.
“There are many individuals, cities and industries taking extraordinary measures to conserve, reuse or adopt better practices to help ensure the future of our state’s water resources,” said Tracy Streeter, director of the Kansas Water Office. “Be the Vision’ recognizes these Kansans for demonstrating the strategies included in the Vision, who believe in doing more and leading by example.”
Offsite best management practices (BMPs) are cost effective and provide great pollutant control and were the basis for developing the City of Wichita’s innovative post construction stormwater BMP implementation process. Stormwater staff recognized their program could be improved by changing to work within watershed basins upstream from Wichita instead of only onsite Streambank stabilization in order to have better overall control of pollutants discharged to surface waters. NPDES MS4 permits were reissued by Kansas Department of Health and Environment and an offsite BMP Evaluation Plan was developed.
“To date, 41 developments within the City of Wichita have enrolled in the program. Normally property owners would have to install expensive separators to remove sediment and trash from stormwater discharge. Instead, offsite BMPs were implemented and property owners were able to save about $960,000 avoiding the expense of those separators,” said City of Wichita Public Works & Utilities Director Alan King. “This has provided a great benefit not only for us and the quality of our surface water but it’s also a win-win for developers as it is convenient and a less expensive option for them.”
This has also resulted in improved water quality in the Little Arkansas River and priority streams as the city is working with farmers to convert conventionally farmed fields to no-till acreage. Wichita is currently the only MS4 NPDES permittee in Kansas which has implemented an Offsite BMP Program.
The years of dedicated work between a municipality and downstream irrigators to ensure water supply was available to both was highlighted at the conference. In 2006, drought took its toll on the Kanopolis Lake area and water supply was dramatically affected. To ensure water supply needs could be met, stakeholders, the city of Salina and in lake water users worked with the state with resulted in the access district legislation in 2011.
“We knew this milestone wasn’t the end, but more work was needed to complete the rules and regulation of the process and form the Lower Smoky Hill River Irrigation District which incorporated the Access District,” said Martha Tasker, City of Salina. “This provides the opportunity for surface water users along the Smoky Hill River and below Kanopolis Lake to obtain long term water storage in Kanopolis to back up their water rights when natural flows do not meet their needs. This past year we have seen reservoir release changes to meet target flows, which are a more efficient use of available water then prior operations.”
This is a success story of forming partnerships and working toward a common goal to better manage and use water resources. The improved management provides more stable reservoir levels, improving the availability of water in times of drought.
As important as reservoirs and best management practices are in the east, streambank projects are in the east, Water Conservation Areas and Water Technology Farms are Vision action items that play a key role in the Ogallala region demonstrating more can be done with less water.
“Throughout the public input process of the Kansas Water Vision, producers shared that due to the diversity of the state, strategies and tools would not produce the same results everywhere,” said Streeter. “The team believed demonstration farms featuring the latest developed technology for water conservation was the best way to test the tools in each region that had different soil types and water conditions.”
Recognizing that the social and economic vitality of the Wichita County community is dependent upon their water supply, a group of community members joined together in early 2016 to develop a plan for county-wide water conservation in Wichita County. They recognized the need for a facilitator and after many months of effectively communicating and working together they successfully submitted their WCA plan to the Chief Engineer. The sophisticated management plan begins with a 29 percent reduction and ramps up every seven years, eventually calling for a 50 percent reduction in average water use by 2038.
“The management plan calls for voluntary enrollment via consent agreement with individual water users establishing conservation levels based upon the groundwater modeling projections provided by Kansas Geological Survey,” said Matt Long, WCA producer and committee member. “Information and education is a key component of this plan. We also worked to develop our own penalties for non-compliance, in addition to overseeing the WCA.”
Numerous informational meetings were held, and to date, 13 consent agreements and orders have been approved by the Chief Engineer with three more in the process of being completed. These agreements are projected to save more than 10,000 acre feet of water on 7,000 acres of irrigated land in Wichita County. The success of the WCA is a testament to the people of Wichita County for stepping up and wanting to make a difference in the future of communities for generations to come.
Also honored was the Roth Family of Holcomb, Kansas. Dwane Roth is a third generation farmer who operates one of the three original Water Technology Farms and strongly believes in the technology and conservation happening on his farm. He has hosted multiple field and demonstration days, giving the hundreds of area producers, stakeholders, and decision-makers who have attended opportunities to be exposed to new irrigation technologies that can be used as tools to make more efficient use of the area’s declining water supplies.
“I’ll be honest, when I first heard about soil moisture probes I was extremely skeptical and didn’t believe we could truly make an impact to the declining Ogallala,” said Roth. “But there is no denying these techniques have dramatically influenced my operating decisions and my outlook on the future water supply in this area. Now we are able to efficiently use fewer inputs, while maintaining or increasing production and profits. The results have never been so clear.”
This year his tech farm produced 241bushels per acre using 5.75 inches of water. Neighboring farms have two circles one half mile from the tech farm. One of those fields produced 233 bushels per acre on 14.12 inches and the other produced 222 bushels per acre on 13.5 inches of water.
In the fall of 2016 Roth started meeting with a group of area producers and those talks began forming a larger water conservation project as some of the areas have seen water level declines of over 60 feet in the last ten years. The talks progressed and now the Kearny Finney Local Enhanced Management Area proposal has been receiving public input and evaluating various water conservation ideas to address the depletion of the aquifer in their area.
Seeing the huge importance water conservation played in her own family’s operation and her father’s dedication to ensuring water for the future, Grace Roth developed her FFA Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) on water advocacy. She accepted the opportunity to present at the Ag Ed Symposium about her SAE with the goal to recruit more FFA members to the project.
“I wanted to educate more FFA members across the state on water issues and what role they can play in water conservation,” said Grace. “I soon realized my passion was growing into something bigger than I had ever imagined and would truly be able to make an impact on Kansas.”
After months of collaborating with Dr. Hock at K-State and the Kansas Department of Agriculture, the Kansas Youth Water Advocates Conference was held this past summer.
This family wants others to understand as well as the next generation of agriculturalists, it is our duty to conserve our natural resources so that we can have sustainable agriculture for years to come. Conserving water isn’t a one person job but all Kansans must come together to make a lasting impact not only in agriculture, but our everyday lives.
There were about 600 attendees at the conference last week. The first day focused on water resource management and implementation efforts for accomplishing regional priorities within the Long Term Vision for the Future of Water Supply in Kansas to ensure our state’s water future. Speakers were featured from all over the nation and day two highlighted the latest policy and research developments of water issues in Kansas.
To view the entire agenda of the conference visit: www.kwo.ks.gov .