Friday, July 22, 2011

Water Representation in Kansas

It's been an ongong discussion in Kansas since I came in 1977 - the irrigation water users are too well represented on the water policy-making boards and this results in the situation of the fox guarding the henhouse. 

They argue that the irrigation folks dominate the GMD's (which are supposed to represent all water users and water uses), and worse yet, the Kansas Water Authority, which is the major policy-making body in the state for water - all of this at the expense of John Q. Public and every other water user group.  They point to the fact that irrigation uses 80% (or more) of the water in the state, which is correct, as if this unbalanaced water usage is because irrigators have come to dominate the policy-making water venues.  I'd argue that irrigation has always used a dominant portion of the state's water and because they did, they were provided the representational numbers they have.  To have done otherwise would have unfairly under-represented this group.

It's not a lot different than Legislative representation.  Populous Johnson County gets more House seats than does rural Thomas County.  But it's not that the Johnson County population is larger because they have more Legislative representation to work the system better, but because the people were already there and deserved that level of representation out of fairness.

One difference in these two comparative systems is that Legislative representation gets adjusted every 10 years through reapportionment - to keep the balance - whereas water representation does not.  It'd be an interesting exercise to see what GMD and KWA representation irrigation water use should actually be getting based on use, and also how a reapportionment process would shift these numbers over time.  Irrigation water use in GMD 4 pushes 98% of the total use, so I suspect our irrigators could be under-represented on some of the boards and authorities.  Hey, but who's complaining?

Besides, in the final analysis, the Kansas Legislature decides all state policy, and in this venue I assure you that the irrigation industry is under represented.  Besides, many think the lawyers and the real estate folks are the foxes guarding the legislative henhouse, so let's deal with that issue too.  Or, we could go Issue and Referendum and bypass the entire representational system altogether.


  1. All that said...I can tell you that water is still relatively cheap and plentiful here in the well-developed eastern areas of the state!

  2. Gayle: I agree with your comment, but even where water is plentiful and relatively inexpensive there are still questions and concerns over who gets to make the decisions. But I still contend that irrigation is represented well where it should be, and less so where it shouldn't be.

    Consider the Basin Advisory Committees (BACs) working on the Kansas State Water Plan. Whereas the western Kansas BAC's have a bias toward ag and irrigation representation, the Missouri BAC's 11 member positions represent the following groups:

    Conservation/Environment; Recreation; Ariculture; Education; At Large Public; Water Quality; At Large Public; At Large Public; Municipal Public Water; Industry/Commerce; and Fish and Wildlife.

    Where is the irrigation bias in the Missouri BAC? Heck, it could be argued that water is inexpensive in the Missouri BAC because the public at large and municipal water uses have too much representation in these matters. Again, these users have the level of representation they have because it's only fair that they do. I don't think water rates are low because they have controlled the system.

    Thanks for the comment. I hope I have addressed your point.