Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Public Interest and Takings

As water becomes more scarce and more sought after, managers and governments are going to get more creative in their pursuits. One creative way to change the system is to redefine the basic foundations of water law. One of those foundations is the concept of "public interest" - probably the least well-defined term in today's water law, certainly in Kansas water law.

Everyone has a notion of what the public interest is, and in Kansas water law it is very loosely defined. Therein lies the problem (opportunity). Want to eliminate inefficient ag water use so it can be used for public water supply? Define or litigate it as not being in the public interest. Done. Whatever you (or a water manager or a government) wants to do with the water, redefining "public interest" can achieve it without even changing any water law.

Another example is current S. 787 now going through Congress. The clean water act currently applies to "navigable waters of the U.S.". S. 787 redefines applicable water to simply "waters of the U.S.". Such a simple redefinition, that once done, will place all waters of the U.S. under federal regulatory control. I'm not saying this will be a good thing or bad thing - only that it will change the regulatory water focus of the federal government significantly.

The only saving grace in this approach to shifting water use is that because a redefinition of "public interest" is made, it's virtually impossible to argue that the shift is for any other reason than to satisfy the public interest. This means that regulatory (or actual) takings now becomes a real secondary issue.

But regardless of the methods used, I think the posturing for control of water is only going to get way more interesting.

Monday, July 20, 2009


Yikes! Recently read where the Kansas Corrections Department in 2007 had a budget of $296.6 million and 3,240 employees. Seems like a lot of money and people to watch over a mere 8,696 inmates. It is in fact one employee and $92,090.00 for every 2.7 inmates.

By comparison, Kansas water resource programs receive about $8 million annually from the state to fund and implement the state's water plan - in the very best of years (much less of late). I can't help concluding how undervalued Kansas water is to the state. Without it, there'd certainly be no prisons to maintain - or anything else for that matter.

And as if things were'nt bad enough. Governor Parkinson just clipped the state agencies (including the water agencies) even more because projected revenue income is dwindling. I have to ask: How can revenues ever increase when basic infrastructure, including water resources, are not maintained?

I say parole the prisoners, retrain them to work in the water resources field and with the corrections savings fund the state water plan comensurate with its fundamental importance. Ah,,, if only things were that simple.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Being Quoted is Not Always Great

I did an interview on water issues for the "Kansas Farmer" which appeared on page 12 of the April, 2009 edition (see article). The piece began saying that I said: "..the only solution to continued depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer is a new industry that uses less water and produces more economic value than today's irrigated production agriculture."

While I actually said this (or something very close to it), the interviewer seemed to completely forget about all the qualifying comments made just prior, which included something along the lines of: traditional responses have been to reduce water use at the expense of the economy or to boost the economy at the expense of the resource. The best solution is to address both the resource and economic issues simultaneously. With this understood, the opening quote above makes more sense and would be less likely to be taken literally. Finding a new industry is NOT the only solution to groundwater depletion in the Ogallala.

I also said irrigation system efficiency improvements wouldn't necessarily reduce crop water use, and gave him 4 reasons why it might not. My next quote in the article had me proclaiming my doubts as to irrigation efficiency saving water, based only (and solely) on one of the 4 stated reasons. And to boot, the interviewer had another person responding to my proclamation which was misunderstood and clipped. It didn't help matters much when the other person's refuting of my statement was not even correct.

When a 75 minute interview results in 3 quick quotes and 3 key points, I don't see how it can be really accurate - and this one missed several key points as well. While they have a job to do, my experience has been that much of the mis-information out there on water issues is because of the press that tries to get the word out.