Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Water Policy Reform Full of Tension over State Fees

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Water Policy Reform Full of Tension over State Fees

Article excerpt

Anxiety among agricultural and residential water interests poured forth Monday during a House committee meeting to explore strategies for delivery of an affordable, clean and adequate supply to all Kansas consumers.

Debate is clouded by controversy about fees paid to support the Kansas Water Plan and, more significantly, action in each of the past six years by legislators and governors to sweep $6 million from the fund to pay general expenditures of state government.

Another consideration: 85 percent of water consumed in Kansas goes to irrigation of crops. The economics of irrigation are profound. In 2013, irrigated corn fields in southwest Kansas averaged 202 bushels per acre. Dry land corn fields averaged 24 bushels an acre.

Meanwhile, Gov. Sam Brownback's administration is on the second draft of a 50-year report on water resource management. After one year of work, administration officials intend to convene a blue- ribbon panel later this year to develop a method of financing the governor's water vision.

Rep. Tom Sloan, a Lawrence Republican and chair of the House 2020 Committee, said the state couldn't afford to wait for recommendations from the governor that might not surface until 2016 in the midst of an election year. If lawmakers do respond with reform of state water policy, he said, those changes wouldn't likely be implemented until 2017.

"How much longer do we put off investing in our water?" Sloan said.

Sloan introduced a bill that would raise the state fee by 10 cents on every 1,000 gallons of treated water sold at retail. The current fee is 3 cents per 1,000 gallons. The rural water district serving Sloan's home between Lawrence and Topeka currently charges $7.20 for that quantity of water.

The legislation would allow for greater spending on water data collection, compliance with federal and state clean water laws or regulations, and for maintenance of drinking water supplies in reservoirs, lakes and rivers. …

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