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Kansas governor proposes 50-year water plan; budget constraints over aqueduct, reservoir plans

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TOPEKA, Kansas — Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is vowing to establish a 50-year water plan for the state before the end of his term, but budget constraints may delay big-ticket projects.

Western Kansas' water supply is heavily dependent on the Ogallala Aquifer, which has been steadily depleting, leaving some counties unable to irrigate crops. Brownback has said that Ogallala's storage could be down to 30 percent capacity in 50 years if nothing changes.

Meanwhile, eastern Kansas relies upon surface reservoirs, which are increasingly filling with sediment and many are majority-owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Tracy Streeter, director of the Kansas Water Office, told the Senate Natural Resources Committee during the opening week of the legislative session that a $20 million project to dredge the John Redmond Reservoir would begin this summer. Streeter proposed that the state buy the full future use of the Perry and Milford reservoirs for $30 million.

Streeter said that under the state's current contract with the corps, it can use about one-third of Milford's supply and one-sixth of Perry's. The corps, which controls the rest, could potentially divert its share in those resources to clients outside the state, he said. The state would also save money by making the purchase now because accrued interest will have pushed the price tag up to $50 million by the end of the contract in 2042.

PHOTO: A frozen Perry Lake as seen along the dam road near Perry, Kan., Friday, Jan. 16, 2015. Kansas water officials have proposed to move ahead on big-ticket projects to secure the state’s long-term water supply. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
A frozen Perry Lake as seen along the dam road near Perry, Kan., Friday, Jan. 16, 2015. Kansas water officials have proposed to move ahead on big-ticket projects to secure the state’s long-term water supply. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

"That is something that I've always looked at to become self-sufficient in our state, to make sure that we have that water," said Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican on the Natural Resources Committee. "But, I don't see how we can start any multi-million-dollar projects given the financial situation that we're in today."

During the session, Kansas lawmakers will be forced to fill budget shortfalls of more than $710 million for the current fiscal period and the one beginning July 1. Those constraints make the largest proposed water project, the Kansas aqueduct, even more difficult to fathom, McGinn said.

The aqueduct would cost $18 billion and require $1 billion per year to operate, according to a draft report released this month. Its cost could rise significantly with the inclusion of works to mitigate its environmental impact, Streeter said, and potential conflicts with other states using the Missouri River have yet to be studied.

Brownback, who cited the ambitious water plan in his State of the State address, is expected to form a panel by late February to focus on ways to finance upcoming water projects.

"Right now, all we clearly recognize is that there is a volume of water in the Missouri River that we've got to seep away to make available for Kansas use, whether it's an aqueduct or whether it's some other use," Streeter said. "We know what to do. We just don't know how to pay for it."


Online: http://www.kwo.org/

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PHOTO: A frozen Perry Lake as seen along the dam road near Perry, Kan., Friday, Jan. 16, 2015. Kansas water officials have proposed to move ahead on big-ticket projects to secure the state’s long-term water supply. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
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