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‘Use it or lose it’ no longer the water law for Kansas

‘Use it or lose it’ is gone. Local initiatives to encourage reduced water usage have arrived.

The Kansas Legislature has passed, and Gov. Sam Brownback has signed, bills that are intended to move Kansas from a culture of water mining to a culture of water conservation.

“This is a busy legislative session for water law,” says Tracy Streeter, Kansas Water Office director. “We have eight bills making their way through the process.”

Repealing the “use it or lose it” provision of Kansas law has been a popular goal. That provision had taken water rights away from irrigators who used less than their full right. The change in the law will protect the full right regardless of how much water is actually used.

Key Points

• “Use it or lose it” is history in Kansas water law.

• Local Enhanced Management Areas are approved.

• Several other bills are still in the works in state Legislature.

Another major bill provides for Local Enhanced Management Area, or LEMA, establishment to allow farmers to reach a voluntary consensus for water-use reduction in an area where the water table is being depleted. The first LEMA involves a group of Sheridan County farmers who were seeking to reduce water use.

Other bills that were still in the process at press time include:

House Bill 2461, which will expand the Kansas Water Banking Act. Expansion will allow for the relocation of water from an area with plentiful supply to one that is water-short by allowing the “banking” of water, which can be purchased on a short-term lease by buyers who need it.

Senate Bill 272, which clears multiyear flex accounts based on the 2000-2009 averages, but does not require the right owner to reduce use by 10% as a condition of entering into the agreement, as was previously required.

That legislation complements an effort to allow for drought-term permits that forgive the overuse of water during the 2011 severe drought provided the rights holder agrees to move to the average-use accounting method.

House Bill 2517 makes a five-year pilot program to allow partial water-right retirement in certain areas, primarily in groundwater management districts 4 and 5 in western Kansas.

House Bill 2096 amends several programs to encourage streambank restoration projects, use of small lakes for flood control and water marketing.

House Bill 2685 creates reservoir improvement districts based on water rights affected by reservoirs. It would allow landowners to tax themselves to provide for reservoir restoration.

House Bill 2692 provides for a dedicated sales tax of one-tenth of 1 cent to go to the state water-fund plan and repeals the existing water-plan fund. Streeter says that initiative probably will not pass this year.

This article published in the April, 2012 edition of KANSAS FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.