One the of the nation’s top agriculture-producing states is following through on a call to action from its top official to get serious about a long-term vision for water use and conservation.

Last fall, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback gave state water agencies a year to gather input and draft a 50-year water vision for the state designed to meet current needs and allow for future growth. Brownback has made water conservation a priority throughout his first term as governor, signing multiple laws into place to encourage and incentivize water management and conservation, especially in Western Kansas that relies on water from the Ogallala Aquifer.

“We are at a pivotal moment in our state. We can talk these issues to death, but without vision we won’t be able to address these priorities,” said Governor Brownback. “Ensuring each citizen has a reliable water supply includes addressing both the groundwater decline in the Ogallala Aquifer as well as securing, protecting and restoring our reservoir storage.”

Since then, led by a team of officials from the Kansas Water Office and Kansas Department of Agriculture, there have been more than 160 meetings held throughout the state to solicit input from Kansas citizens about strategies to conserve and better manage water. According to the Water Vision Team, the outreach process reached more than 9,000 Kansans.

The initial “discussion draft” document was released July 1, and the team is currently holding a series of 12 public meetings across the state begin fine-tuning the draft.

The draft contains more than 170 strategies focused on four main themes, including water conservation, water management, technology and crop varieties, and new sources of supply. While the draft includes general goals ranging from conserving and extending the usable life of the Ogallala Aquifer and protecting reservoir supply storage to ensuring a reliable source of water for the state’s metropolitan areas and developing additional water supply through the use of lower quality sources of water and the reuse of treated wastewater, it does include some more specific and measureable goals for consideration. Some of the more specific goals include:

  • Achieve a 20 percent per capita reduction in water consumption by 2035 while increasing Kansas’ ranking among Midwest states in economic growth per capita;
  • Reduce statewide water consumption by 20 percent by 2065 while maintaining a position as a leading Midwest state contributor to the real U.S. economic growth;
  • Achieve a 20 percent reduction per capita in municipal water demand and a 20 percent reduction in total consumptive use in the Ogallala Aquifer by 2065 and rank as a top 20 state in Gross Domestic Products;
  • Kansans will use 10 percent less water per person by 2035 while increasing the state’s ranking
  • economic growth indictors; and  
  • Increase the estimated usable lifetime in all areas of the Ogallala Aquifer in Kansas by a minimum of 25 years.

A 2013 study conducted by Kansas State University found that under current irrigation trends, nearly 70 percent of the groundwater stored in the Ogallala Aquifer of Kansas would be depleted. The report estimated that reducing water use immediately could extend the aquifer’s usable life through the year 2110. The study’s researchers anticipate that corn and cattle production will increase in western Kansas until 2040, with peak water usage anticipated in 2025. Beyond that, the researchers say it depends on what decisions are made about the future of water use in the state.

The draft 50-year vision document is available here to review. The Water VisionTeam has until November 1, 2014, to deliver the 50-Year Vision for the Future of Kansas Water to Governor Brownback.