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Irrigators reject conservation plan

6/18/2014

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

SCOTT CITY -- Irrigators in the state's oldest and most depleted groundwater management district soundly rejected a proposal to reduce water use by as much as 20 percent across the entire district.

The proposal's fate was sealed by a 3-1 vote against the idea by Wallace County irrigators, who have some of the district's best remaining water supplies.

The 173-158 vote against the district-wide local enhanced management area was made public Tuesday after board members of the Western Kansas Groundwater Management District No. 1 counted the votes.

Members of the district voted last week, but the results were sealed until the board met Tuesday to tally the votes.

The board already said it wanted a two-thirds majority in favor of the proposal before it would move ahead.

Instead, 173 irrigators -- out of the 331 voting -- voted against the idea. In Wallace County, 60 votes out of 79 cast were opposed.

District Manager Jan King said the push to conserve water isn't dead.

"We've got to do something," she said of saving water.

Likely, King and the board will be going back to its members sometime this fall to see what irrigators want to see in a proposal to reduce water use.

"The board wants to go forward, as far as I can tell," King said.

The LEMA would have been the second in Kansas and the first for an entire district. The first LEMA put in place was in Sheridan County, where irrigators agreed to reduce consumption by approximately 20 percent, reducing water use to about 11 inches a year.

Under the proposal offered in GMD No. 1, irrigators would have been limited to using 8 inches of water annually. Most irrigators in the district use anywhere from 10 to 11 inches of water per acre.

Vested rights would have been unaffected by the reduction, although they voluntarily could have reduced the amount they use.

At a meeting in May in Dighton, both King and board president Greg Graff said they're committed to extending the water use and would be back if the plan fails to get the two-thirds vote.

"If it's not this, we need to do something," King said at that meeting. "We'll probably come back. It's my job to try to make this water last as long as possible."