We’ve all probably heard this ultimatum spoken before: “You can either be part of the solution, or part of the problem.”
But when it comes to the diminishing Ogallala aquifer, and its value to agriculture and population centers in the western U.S, it seems like we’re truly at a fork in the road.
Citing an open records request, the Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World reported recently that even though laws are on the books that could force Kansas farmers to limit water use, no farmer has had their water rights revoked by government officials because of the aquifer’s condition.
Farmers also aren’t policing themselves. A 2-year-old law allowing growers to form a Local Enhanced Management Area (LEMA) that can require reductions in irrigation from the aquifer has only spawned one group of 110 farmers near Colby, Kan., owning about 99 square miles, the newspaper says.
At current drawdown rates, the aquifer will be 70% depleted by 2060, but it could last another 100 years if all farmers cut 20% of their water use, Kansas State University says. Action is being taken on at least two fronts:
• Last year, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback called for a 50-year vision to be created for water use in the state. After numerous public meetings were held this year, the new “vision” will be released next month at the Governor’s Conference on the Future of Water in Kansas.
A draft of this “vision” includes a short-term strategy of increasing the adoption of no-till and cover crops, which may help with sedimentation issues in reservoirs affecting eastern Kansas and water-quantity issues in western Kansas.
Susan Metzger, chief of policy and planning at the Kansas Water Office, expects a push toward more no-tilling and cover-crop seeding through strengthening existing partnerships with Kansas State, conservation districts, No-Till on the Plains and other groups.
• The Kansas Alliance for Wetlands and Streams (KAWS) is assembling a large number of conservation organizations for a meeting later this year to develop a conservation plan that may exceed Brownback’s initiative.
The ultimate goal is to secure funding from the USDA’s $400 million Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) that promotes coordination between NRCS and regional partners to deliver conservation assistance to producers and landowners, says John Bond, a regional coordinator for KAWS.
If you’re a farmer reading this column, you may already be no-tilling and doing your part to conserve water. But what about your neighbors, or other farmers in your county? Are you sharing your success stories?
We’re betting that peer pressure, and financial incentives, in the farming community will be more effective in the long run in extending the life of the aquifer or cleaning up sedimentchoked waterways, than passing laws that may never be enforced.