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Lawmaker says over-pumping fines should be higher

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Kansas may want to consider instituting stricter penalties for irrigators who pump beyond their allotted amount, a state legislator says.

Rep. Joe Seiwert, R-Pretty Prairie, told his colleagues on the Special Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources that he has received several letters from irrigators who are trying to follow state water conservation rules and are angry about neighbors who flout those rules, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported (http://bit.ly/1bK6W6o ).

"I mean, a $500 fine?" Seiwert said Friday. "You've got producers who say, 'I'll pay the fine, here's an extra $2,000, write me up for four more days.' That's a joke. We look like idiots up here."

He said it may be time for tougher enforcement and penalties, similar to efforts decades ago to make drunken driving a more serious crime.

"Twenty years ago you got a slap on the wrist when you got drunk and drove home," Seiwert said Friday. "Today they've got substantial penalties."

But Rep. Sharon Schwartz, R-Washington, urged caution, saying not everyone who over pumps does it intentionally.

"There are people who don't look at their water meter," said Schwartz, a committee member who also runs hog farms.

Jackie McClaskey, acting secretary of the Department of Agriculture, said Seiwert was right in asserting that some producers are abusing the system. McClaskey said Lane Letourneau, the manager of the department's water appropriation program, is leading an effort to develop a new penalty matrix for water conservation violations that will more fully account for over-pumping violations.

Dale Rodman, the outgoing secretary of the Department of Agriculture, has said that under his tenure the department's goal was to treat those it regulates as "customers" and help them stay in business.

McClaskey said under her leadership the department will strive for a balance.

"Regulations need to be fair and equitable," McClaskey said. "And then they need to be enforced."

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Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, http://www.cjonline.com