2012 NGWA Ground Water Summit: Innovate and Integrate

How Water Law and Management Practices Are Evolving Towards Groundwater Sustainability in Kansas and Possible New Steps to Accelerate This Transition

Tuesday, May 8, 2012: 2:50 p.m.
Royal Ballroom C (Hyatt Regency Orange County)
Marios Sophocleous, Senior, Scientist, University of Kansas;

The purpose of this presentation is to trace the evolution of key water-related laws and management practices in Kansas, from the enactment of the Kansas Water Resources Appropriation Act of 1945 to the present, in order to highlight the state’s efforts to create a more sustainable water future and in hopes that others will benefit from Kansas’ experience. The 1945 Act provides the basic framework of water law (prior appropriation) in Kansas. Progression of groundwater management in the state encompasses local Groundwater Management Districts (GMDs) and their water-management programs, minimum-streamflow and TMDL standards, water-use reporting and water-metering programs, use of modified safe-yield policies in some GMDs, the subbasin water-resources-management program, the integrated resource planning/aquifer-storage-and-recovery project of the city of Wichita, the Central Kansas Water Bank, enhanced aquifer-subunits management, and various water-conservation programs. While these have all contributed to the slowing down of declines in groundwater levels in the High Plains aquifer and in associated ecosystems, they have not succeeded in halting those declines. Based on the assumption that the different management approaches have to operate easily within the prevailing water rights and law framework to succeed, a number of steps are suggested here that may help further diminish or reverse the declines of the High Plains aquifer. These include eliminating the ‘‘use it or lose it’’ maxim in the prior-appropriation framework, broadening the definition of ‘‘beneficial use,’’ regulating domestic and other ‘‘exempt’’ wells, encouraging voluntary ‘‘sharing the shortage’’ agreements, and determining to what extent water rights may be regulated in the public interest without a compensable ‘‘taking’’. Further measures include establishing artificial-recharge and/or aquifer-storage-and-recovery projects wherever feasible and determining to what extent water-rights holders might be subjected to additional reasonable conditions of water use without necessarily having the security of their rights altered.