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Fluid discussion
Groundwater vital to Barton County
Water Talk LWV
Barton County Conservation District Manager Veronica Coons is the featured speaker at a noon program at the Great Bend Senior Center Monday. The program was co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Great Bend.

Wading into the plans and provisions of Barton County’s water use directives can be a soggy endeavor. In Kansas, all water is dedicated to the use of Kansans, but it is also subject to state control through numerous statutes and intricate regulations.

On invitation by the League of Women Voters of Great Bend, Veronica Coons, Barton County Conservation District manager, gave a brief overview to a luncheon audience at the Great Bend Senior Center Monday afternoon, of the five tenets of the current Kansas Water Plan (KWP), as well as her work with the Great Bend Prairie Regional Planning Area as it relates to the citizens of Barton County.

During wet years, like 2019, there isn’t much talk about water, but drought years such as the one currently being experienced reminds everyone that water resources are vital to both one’s livelihood and critical to economic growth, she said.

There are legislative as well as economic implications to the state’s water management this year, which involve water users from all factions and in all areas of the state. 

The Kansas Water Plan

• The first tenet of the plan deals with the conservation and extension of the High Plains Aquifer in the state. As a primary underground water supply, the High Plains encompasses about 174,000 square miles that extend through parts of eight states in the Midwest. While most of the High Plains is made up of the Ogallala Aquifer, in Kansas the Ogallala serves the western portion of the state, with the Great Bend Prairie serving the southwest central region and to the east are the Equus Beds in the south central part of the state. The eastern part of the state is served by a series of above-ground reservoirs.

Most of Barton County is served by the Great Bend Prairie aquifer, which is a younger, more porous formation than the much older and larger Ogallala, Coons said. 

“Because the Great Bend Prairie and Equus Beds are younger aquifers, they aren’t as deep as the Ogallala and the soil profiles are different,” Coons noted. “They don’t take near as much time to recharge.”

In 2019, Coons noted, the area had issues with water coming up from the ground bringing the water table up. However, “some people may think that the Great Bend Prairie doesn’t have any problems, because it recharges more quickly. But, keep in mind, cycles of drought and flood both affect the water table.” 

The water table is going down currently due to the present state of drought, she said. 

“Even though we are a fast recharging aquifer here, it doesn’t mean that we’re out of the danger zone when it comes to drought periods.”

• A second tenet focus on securing, protecting and restoring Kansas reservoirs. “While most of western Kansas gets its water from groundwater, it might seem like a distant problem for us here,” she said. “But most of the population in the state gets its water from reservoirs.” 

There, the problem is silting that reduces their capacity. “That would make it a critical issue for the people that depend on that water,” she said.

• The tenet that most affects the Barton County area is the improvement of water quality. 

“That focuses on stopping contaminants that may get into the water supply,” she said. “We should be more mindful of the chemicals that we are using on our farms, We should also think about what we are using on our lawns in town, and when we have drought conditions, we should be focused on keeping our water supply the highest quality possible.”

• The fourth tenet deals with extreme conditions such as drought and flood, and using available technology to better predict and handle them. Municipal conservation plans and public water supply emergency response plans contribute essential tools to prepare for and respond to extreme events.

• The final tenet is to acknowledge that the water planning process in the state relies heavily on public and stakeholder input. Public knowledge of water issues at the academic, outreach and social marketing levels contributes to success, Coons noted.

The Great Bend Prairie

The Great Bend Prairie is one of 14 regional areas in the state. Each one of them worked on creating priority goals and action plans for inclusion in the KWP.

The GBP worked on five such goals, Coons noted. 

• The first was to achieve water use sustainability within the area that includes a reasonable raising or lowering of the water table based on average weather conditions.

• The second priority developed for municipalities and rural districts includes maintaining an annual training fund of 15% from the Clean Water Drinking Fee and increased technical training support to public water supply systems.

• The third priority is the enhancement of monitoring of poor quality water and minimize further contamination of fresh water sources. Areas of concern include regions with salt water disposal lines and wells, high nitrate levels and areas with high salt sources.

• The fourth priority is to promote research and development of alternative feed sources, and less water-intensive crops of particular benefit in areas where water is not available for production.

• The final priority concerns watershed sustainability so that flood control is maintained, while stream-flow continues to meet downstream water needs, Coons noted.