California, Kansas partners in crime in water mismanagement



September 2, 2014 - 12:00 AM

Two nights of generous rains gave welcome relief this holiday weekend and broke a six-week stretch of no considerable moisture.
It’s also a reminder to how tenuous is our grip on what makes or breaks area crops. The verdict is still out on whether the recent rains came in time to save the soybeans.
Overall, it’s been a reasonably good year for agriculture in our corner of the state.
That’s not the case elsewhere. A drought continues to hold Western Kansas in its vise and California — a small country when it comes to agriculture — is in its third year of a severe drought.
We’ll all come to pay for California’s pain. The golden state produces 90 percent of the country’s tomatoes and 95 percent of our broccoli. Avocados can be expected to jump up almost 30 percent in price because of the drought.
Self-control measures there have failed. Gov. Jerry Brown requested consumers reduce their water use by 20 percent, but only a 5 percent reduction has resulted.
The prolonged drought has farmers drilling more and deeper wells into the state’s Central Valley aquifer system. Kansas knows this sad song by heart. Our Ogallala Aquifer in Western Kansas is rapidly being depleted to grow corn and sustain the burgeoning meatpacking industry — two water-intensive endeavors.
Digging deeper and deeper wells will come to haunt us both. California has more than doubled its use of underground water — from 30 to 60 percent. One side effect from all the pumping is that it’s causing the land to physically sink as the water-drained soil compresses, wreaking havoc on roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
And, of course, one day its “pump-as-you-please” policy will tap out the aquifer.
Long past due, the dire state of affairs finally spurred California legislators to take action. On Friday, lawmakers drafted laws that would establish state agencies to step in if regional efforts fail to protect the state’s groundwater resources from being depleted faster than they can naturally be restored.
Opponents claim such laws would violate the rights of property owners. Bad stewardship is what got them there in the first place.
Gov. Sam Brownback has said Kansas needs to address the fast-depleting Ogallala but to date it’s been all talk.
Kansas, too, must be proactive in preserving its underground water resources as well as create more and better reservoirs so when the skies do open, we can catch every precious drop.
  — Susan Lynn

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