Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Skepticism Mounts about Optimism on Aquifer's Future Use

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Skepticism Mounts about Optimism on Aquifer's Future Use

Article excerpt

A pair of environmental and rural advocacy organizations challenged assertions by Gov. Sam Brownback and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer that new evidence proved sustainable use of the Ogallala Aquifer was within grasp of irrigation-dependent crop producers in Kansas.

As Brownback prepares to leave office for a job with President Donald Trump and to hand the reins to Colyer, the Republican politicians told audiences in Topeka, Manhattan, Hoxie and Garden City their administration's call for a 50-year vision for managing Kansas water resources had served as catalyst for interest in voluntary conservation to extend useful life of the aquifer.

Some researchers had predicted large swaths of the underground reservoir would be unsuitable for irrigation within 25 years.

"What was never thought possible is now within our grasp. Sustainable use of the Ogallala Aquifer is attainable," Brownback said. "With some reduction in water usage, we can reach sustainable aquifer levels for the next one to two decades over about two-thirds of the aquifer."

Brownback said Kansas was moving away from a use-it-up mentality to a vision of sustainability based on regional conservation pacts, greater reliance on technology and harvesting of drought-tolerant crops.

Colyer, a candidate for the 2018 GOP gubernatorial nomination, said better stewardship of the aquifer had "produced real results." He said this "great moment in water conservation in Kansas" guaranteed the state's status as a breadbasket for the nation.

Sierra Club of Kansas and the Kansas Rural Center officials said certainty shared by Brownback and Colyer was drawn from results of a single conservation project in northwest Kansas and potential of a proposed initiative in southwest Kansas.

"They need more evidence before making statements about sustainability," said Craig Volland, agriculture chairman of the state's Sierra Club chapter. "It's way too early to declare victory on decline of the Ogallala."

The existing conservation project referenced by Colyer and Brownback is the 99-square-mile Local Enhanced Management Area near Hoxie. …

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