Groundwater: cooperating in Kansas

Brett Walton’s got another good story about what happens when communities creatively confront coming water shortages and take control over their own adaptation. This one’s out of Kansas, where folks in the Northwest Kansas Groundwater Management District are on the cusp of agreeing amongst themselves to a 20 percent groundwater pumping curtailment, shared, to stretch out their aquifer supplies:

In the past, farmers could call on the chief engineer to administer water rights based on the priority system, in which older users are protected and junior claims are cut off. That course of action, Griggs explained, could enrage neighbors and ripple destructively through the local economy, if pumping were cut off completely. The result, he said, “was economic paralysis” and unchecked declines in the water table.

The LEMA law, however, shifts the power balance. Unlike an earlier law, the chief engineer can only approve, reject, or send back a LEMA management plan for revisions; he cannot make changes himself.

“It deals with the problem of inaction by locals, who want to manage their resource, but who are concerned that a central authority can come in and adopt rules that don’t take notice of local economic conditions,” Griggs said.