Officials from across the state gathered Thursday at the Harvey County Courthouse to discuss water issues — conversations dominated, unsurprisingly, by the state's continuing drought.
According to Newton resident Byron Warta, who serves on a water-related committee and attended the meeting, western portions of the state have been hit particularly hard by a lack of moisture, and problems are likely to continue into the coming year.
"Yes, we've gotten some rain, but the rains are only recharging the surface and are not soaking deeper in our soils," he said.
The Kansas Water Authority met for most of the afternoon Thursday at the courthouse. The authority is made up of 12-15 members appointed by the governor. Each representative covers a different area of the water situation in the state, such as fish and wildlife, conservation, and industry. They make recommendations on water policy to state legislators and the governor.
Warta serves as the conservation representative on one of the state's Basin Advisory Committees, which were first established in each of the 12 river basins in Kansas in 1985. He's a rep on the Lower Arkansas BAC, which includes Harvey County and stretches from Larned to the Oklahoma state line.
One of the issues discussed at the meeting was the Kansas Water Plan, used by the state to address current water resource issues and to plan for future needs. Goals for the plan's five-year update include improving the state’s water quality; ensuring each citizen has a reliable water supply; reducing vulnerability to extreme events, such as flooding and drought; developing and maintaining state and local water infrastructure; and improving recreational opportunities available to citizens.
The Kansas Water Office reports although recent rains and snows have provided some drought relief, the state remains well below normal in total precipitation. Current indications are the drought will continue into the summer for portions of Kansas. Soil moistures and lake levels remain below normal. Public water suppliers have begun developing emergency conservation plans.
Officials at the meeting agreed they'd like to see more public involvement in water issues and increase public interest in the state's water plan — and not just when there's a water crisis.
“Perhaps you’ve seen this spoof called the ‘hydro-illogical cycle,’ which consists of several phases: rain, apathy, drought, awareness, concern, panic and rain, in that order,” Director Tracy Streeter wrote in a recent Kansas Water Office report. “While we welcome the precipitation when it arrives, we cannot allow ourselves to become complacent, and we have to address our water resource vulnerabilities.”
— With additional reporting by Ashton DelVecchio/Newton Kansan.