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Aqueduct idea finding favor in state




MANHATTAN -- When the question turned to finding a new source of water for Kansas, Bill Golden had a simple answer.

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MANHATTAN -- When the question turned to finding a new source of water for Kansas, Bill Golden had a simple answer.

"Aqueduct," he said of his first choice for finding a new water supply.

Already gaining a growing list of supporters, the aqueduct project first was raised in a 1982 Corps of Engineers study suggesting the possibility of tapping into excess water along the Missouri River, sending it west in a massive open-air channel before dumping it into a yet-to-be-built reservoir near Utica.

Golden didn't bat an eye recently at the possibility it might cost as much as $23 billion, and as an agricultural economist at Kansas State University, he understands a few things about the economics of water.

"Very expensive," Rep. John Doll, R-Garden City, chimed in on the project. "For us in western Kansas, this might be the golden parachute. They say the cost may be $23 billion. In the Iraq War, we spent that much in a month."

To be sure, suggestions for new sources of water were relatively few, other than tapping into the Missouri River, but there were ideas of reclaiming salt brine from oil wells or tapping into deeper aquifers.

The transfer of water isn't something Kansas is used to considering, said Southwest Kansas Groundwater Management District No. 3 director Mark Rude.

And, he said, it wasn't just the idea of an aqueduct raised during a recent meeting to develop a 50-year vision on Kansas water. People also mentioned the proposal to move water from Edwards County to Hays.

Water transfers already figure prominently in an Arizona water vision, he said, and it might be time for other states to consider that idea.

Rude and the irrigators he represents are among the strongest proponents of the aqueduct idea, the skimming off of excess water in the Missouri and letting it flow west to Utica, where it will be used to irrigate crops, perhaps recharge the Ogallala Aquifer or used to supply cities.

A study is underway to look at the feasibility of resurrecting the project, a study that will look at how much it might cost and how much water might be available.

For Golden, it's a simple question.

"Let's go back to economics 101," he said. "Let's look at demand vs. supply."

In Kansas, he said, "demand for water is going up."

Golden isn't armed with a wealth of statistics to back up his support for the project.

"If we would have done it 30 years ago, we wouldn't be having these discussions," he said.

And it would have been considerably cheaper, perhaps approximately only $4 billion at the time.

It's the same situation now, even though preliminary estimates now put the cost at $23 billion. In 20 years, he said, that price tag will look cheap.

Political forces won't get any easier either.

"If it was a battle 30 years ago and it's kind of a battle now, what's it going to be in 30 years?" he asked of the political forces at play. "It's something we need to take a look at."

That's the message Rude has been sending.

He thinks the idea should be viewed not as a new source of irrigation, but as a utility, not unlike a series of massive power lines feeding electricity.