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Conference Focuses on Sustainable Water Future, Flood Response
Kansas Ag Connection - 11/08/2019

Nearly 600 attendees with diverse water interests were encouraged at the Governor's Conference on the Future of Water in Kansas Thursday to keep pushing forward with implementation efforts for accomplishing state and regional priorities within the Long-Term Vision for the Future of Water Supply in Kansas and incorporating it into the Kansas Water Plan to ensure our state's water future.

"The State of Kansas remains focused on its goal of a sustainable water future," said Lt. Governor Lynn Rogers. "During this past year serving as Lt. Governor I have met thousands of Kansans who are working each day to make a living and make Kansas a better place more prosperous place. It's easy to see how having a ready supply of good quality water means a community or industry can develop and grow. It's important for all Kansans to play a part in helping make progress on our water issues."

Attendees heard updates on water resource statuses and continued implementation of the Vision as well as areas of concern throughout the state. Progress continues to be made through local, state and federal efforts to implement conservation practices to improve water quality and decrease reservoir sedimentation but much work still remains. To date almost 200 failing streambanks have been stabilized but nearly 700 still need to be addressed in priority watersheds. Reservoirs within Kansas continue to lose storage due to sedimentation. There are now 15 Water Technology Farms across the state demonstrating how producers can maintain their bottom line while reducing water use. More progress needs to be made to reduce water use as groundwater levels continue to fall in the Ogallala Aquifer.

Sustainable food production was the message attendees heard from Jill Wheeler head of Syngenta's Sustainable Productivity in North America. She leads The Good Growth Plan, supporting Syngenta's mission to improve the sustainability of agriculture and meet the challenge of feeding the world's fast-growing population. "Sustainability drivers are opportunities that can be used on the farm. This means taking advantage of resources, increasing efficiency and improving profitability. Wheeler also posed the question, "What is the constant in agriculture?" to which she followed up by saying "It's CHANGE.""

Meeting growing water supply needs is a common problem facing communities across the nation, and a critical component of the Vision in Kansas. Dr. Rollin Hotchkiss has conducted research in multiple aspects of managing reservoir sedimentation for more than 25 years as well as the economic impacts to decreasing supply. Hotchkiss said, "We need to propose solutions that are sustainable for sediment management and engage downstream stakeholders early in the conversation."

"One important feature of our conference is to provide a perspective from outside our state from folks who are addressing similar water issues in other parts of the country and around the world," said Kansas Water Office Acting Director Earl Lewis. "We were very pleased to have Wheeler and Hotchkiss as well as the Chief of USDA-NRCS, Matt Lohr join us today."

The morning also featured the "Water Legacy Award" which was presented to Mike Hayden, who has epitomized what public service for water and natural resources stands for all across the state and country and help implement the modern water resource management funding and principles used today. Starting with his role as legislator to the 41st Governor of Kansas to Asst. Secretary of the Dept. of Interior for Fish Wildlife and Parks of the U.S. under the Bush administration to Secretary of Kansas Dept. of Wildlife Parks, he has spent decades leading many groundbreaking initiatives.

"The challenges ahead are greater than what we have faced in the past," Hayden said. "There are many who say we needn't take political risk, but you have to have vision, and you have to be willing to put your name on it to truly make a difference for the future."

This year's 'Be the Vision' award recipients were also honored for taking extraordinary measures to conserve, reuse or adopt better practices to help ensure the future of our state's water resources. This year's recipients were Garden City Company who has two Water Conservation Areas with about 15,000 acres enrolled using only about 62 percent of their water allocation and saving about 15,000 acre-feet of water for future use; Maize High School -- Climate Club which was started by five high school students last year and has worked with the Kansas Biological Survey and KU faculty to help understand and monitor Cheney reservoir water quality as well as work to help address harmful blue-green algal toxins; and Public Wholesale Water Supply District No. 23 for bringing together 20 other entities who were struggling to negotiate annual terms of their water purchase contract to meet community needs. Ten years later PWWSD#23 became operational and the new plant was built this year. This has brought over $55 million dollars of USDA loan and grant funds into southeast Kansas for a sustainable water supply that will last for many generations to come. The rest of the day continued with four panels highlighting different water topics.

Conference topics include:

- Sustainability Across the Supply Chain

- Flooding Impacts

- Groundwater Quality/The Arbuckle

- Reservoir Sediment Management

Friday will build on Vision implementation and water management and policy discussions from the previous day with technical presentations, posters and talks. Graduate and undergraduate students will present their research.

The conference also features the Kansas Water Office Photo Contest. More than 100 photos were submitted to be voted on as the 'people's choice' at the conference. The winner will be featured on the 2020 brochure, website and other locations throughout the coming year.

The Governor's Conference on the Future of Water in Kansas is hosted by the KWO and K-State /Kansas Water Resource Institute. Major sponsors for the event include 96 Agri Sales, Inc., Black & Veatch, Burns & McDonnell and Great Lakes Dredge & Dock.

As the state's water office, KWO conducts water planning, policy coordination and water marketing as well as facilitates public input throughout the state. The agency prepares the KANSAS WATER PLAN, a plan for water resources development, management and conservation.

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