Friday, September 2, 2011

Emergency Drought Permits in Kansas

Just a few weeks ago the Division of Water Resources announced the offering of an emergency drought term permit for water right owners looking at exceeding their annual water right amounts in order to complete the 2011 crop.  The drought in much of southern and central Kansas has been one for the ages to be sure.  The feeling was to shut off irrigation to stay within the limits of the water right and lose all or a substantial amount of the crop production would be a waste of the state's water resources invested in the production to date, so some mechanism needed to be provided to bring in this crop.

Basically the emergency permits require a water right owner to set aside his or her annual water right and be provided a two-year term permit (2011 and 2012) worth double the amount under the regular water right.  What ever is overpumped this year must be compensated for next year.  The need apparently was there because DWR has now eclipsed 800 term permits in the works - in literally 3-4 weeks time.  There is more to this program, but it clearly is a short-term, attempt to get through this devastatingly dry year.

More funadamentally, however, it could be argued that every water right owner knew on January 1, 2011 how much water he or she had for the year.  The safe decision would always be to plant only the acres and crop populations that could be completed ONLY with the irrigation water (assuming NO rainfall is received).  The problem with this mindset is that in the other 68 years out of 70 they underproduce because they fail to take production advantage of whatever rainfall is received.  When it all boils down, it's an economic and risk management system.  Seems like most producers have economic production goals and a risk tolerance well above the safest levels.  So we tend to operate for the bounty of the moderately dry, average and wet years and scramble for the fixes in the driest of the dry years.  Nothing more than human nature I suspect.  And in the end, the fixes do keep additional water from getting used, so it seems like reasonable business to me.

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