Ag Blogs -
Wednesday, 15 December 2010 16:15
By John D. Montgomery/The Hutchinson News
Kansas Agriculture Secretary Josh Svaty's presence will be missed in Topeka as he takes leave of politics and the Democrat makes way for a new Republican administration. At the age of 31, however, we expect Svaty won't be gone from state politics for too long.
Svaty served seven years as a state representative before being appointed and serving 18 months as agriculture secretary. It was in that role he tried to bring common-sense change to some nonsensical old policies, chief among them water policy.
Svaty expressed frustration about the failure to change a key facet of state water policy - "use it or lose it" - in a speech Saturday at the Kansas Farmers Union convention in Salina. Svaty tried to undo that rule, which causes some irrigators and other big water users to pump their wells to their water right or risk losing the right. But, Svaty told farmers, some associations lobbied against his effort, thinking the legislation was a ploy to shut down wells.
"If any of you have water rights, you're required to use it by the state of Kansas," he said. "If you don't use it, your right is subject to abandonment." Instead, he sought to recognize "conservation as a beneficial use of water," so no irrigator would be penalized for using only what he needed.
A change in that rule also would encourage new technology such as subsurface drip irrigation, which would be more efficient than center pivot or flood irrigation methods. As it is, irrigators aren't motivated to innovate, however.
Meanwhile, ground water reserves are being depleted in the western half of the state, and not only is that a threat to municipal and industrial availability in some places, it ultimately could be a threat to agriculture. Svaty said the state's beef industry is especially threatened by the long-term decline of water supply.
Kansas' water rights rules not only favor heavy irrigation but wasteful water use. Also disappointing is a recent review of state water agencies by the Legislative Division of Post Audit. The study concluded not much could be saved by consolidating water functions in a single agency. That might be true of cost but it isn't of water. Kansas needs smart, comprehensive water policy that protects our long-term water resources. And it probably should be vested in an agency outside of the agriculture department.
That said, Svaty's rule change made good sense. The proposal shouldn't be allowed to die with his departure from the office.