The Associated Press
Legislators say support is building for Gov. Sam Brownback's proposals to change Kansas policies to conserve the state's water and extend the life of its aquifers.
Brownback wants to change the laws governing water usage to encourage conservation and ensure there is enough water for agricultural, business and municipal uses.
Legislators aren't certain about the details, but they are receptive to changing the laws during the 2012 session, which begins next week, the Topeka Capital Journal reported Monday.
Brownback unveiled his plans in November after a series of meetings to discuss potential changes.
The changes include eliminating the "use-it-or-lose-it" policy on water rights that applies to areas already closed to new water development. The policy was enacted in the 1940s and requires farmers and ranchers to use a certain amount of water each year or lose their rights.
Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler said he spoke with a constituent who moved to Kansas from California who lost his water rights because he didn't pump enough each year. The loss of the rights had the effect of lowering the value of his farm because it was less productive.
"Those are the kind of things that just need to be taken into consideration, and I think we're going to see some bills come out with the input of the water office on how to take care of this," said Emler, a Lindsborg Republican.
Sen. Allen Schmidt, a Hays Democrat, said details must be worked out during the legislative session that begins Jan. 9, but he's onboard with encouraging conservation.
"Conserving should be incentivized, not penalized and my initial look at this proposal is it takes away the disincentive to conserve," Schmidt said. "You don't want to penalize farmers because agriculture is our biggest industry in Kansas."
Brownback took suggestions from a variety of groups, including the Kansas Farm Bureau, which supports changing the "use-it-or-lose-it" policy.
"Our folks understand that the Ogallala Aquifer is not recharging the way we all wish it would," said KFB President Steve Baccus. "We're pretty supportive of what the governor's come up with. There's a little bit of everything in there for us. A lot of his proposals are voluntary, they're incentive-based and the drivers in many of these are the stakeholders."
Other policies proposals would enable groundwater management districts to implement plans for reducing water usage to help sustain the aquifer, allow for the development of additional water storage and amend the multi-year flex accounts program that would give irrigators expanded capabilities to manage their crops over a five-year period.
State Rep. Eber Phelps said there was a sense of urgency to change water policies to increase conservation. Much of Kansas experienced severe drought in 2011, taking a toll on surface and aquifer supplies.
"You have a situation where there's even some irrigators out in western Kansas who want to kind of regulate themselves," said Phelps, a Hays Democrat. "Hindsight would say, maybe we should have started this many, many years ago."