The Kansas Department of Agriculture introduced legislation to promote the voluntary conservation of water Wednesday, marking a substantial shift in water policy from the previous half-century.

“In the past, water rights holders have been required to put to beneficial use their water right or risk losing the right to abandonment, which contributed to the notion of "use-it-or-lose-it." Today, we are asking the legislature to approve a statutory change that would recognize conservation as a beneficial use,” said Josh Svaty, Secretary of Agriculture. “The program would be voluntary, and would allow producers that wish to save water for future use or future generations to have that opportunity without risk of losing the property right they developed.”

Previously, if a water right holder wished to keep their water right but not pump water, he could enroll it in the Water Rights Conservation Program (WRCP), a temporary program which was suspended due budget shortfalls in the fall of 2009. “This is a solution for WRCP, but it also goes a significant step further,” said Svaty. “We are now recognizing conservation as a beneficial use of our water resource, and allowing producers to make a voluntary decision to change their water rights to conservation water rights for as long as they wish. Furthermore, we can manage this new system within our existing administrative resources, keeping fees static and solving the budget problem WRCP presented.”

The bill applies to all vested or perfected water rights statewide. The water right holder would apply to change all or a portion of the water right from its current use to a conservation right. If the water right holder wanted to use that water for a different purpose in the future, he or she would make a subsequent change application to the Division of Water Resources.

“Our water law has been historically focused on development and use of the resource,” said Svaty. “However, the development of our resource in Kansas is clearly mature, and it is time that we progress toward a system of management that allows producers wanting to conserve to have that opportunity.”

The bill was introduced in the Senate Agriculture Committee.