Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A New Approach To Enhanced Management in Kansas

I'm very happy to announce that our year long effort to pass new legislation in Kansas regarding enhanced management has been successful.  Immediately following the 2012 session, Governor Brownback signed SB 310 - also known as the LEMA Bill - for Local Enhanced Management Areas.

This bill went through the Legislature with only 1 minor hiccup, and was eventually passed unamended - unanimously in the Senate and with only one "nay" vote in the entire House.  I was always confident the bill was well constructed and would pass, but I didn't expect the overwhelming support we got from all the other "water" players in Kansas, the Governor's office and the Legislature.

Basically, the bill authorizes a GMD board to submit an enhanced management plan to the state engineer.  "That doesn't sound too revolutionary to me", you might say.  However, once the absolutely local plan is received, the state engineer gets to reject it outright if it does not pass a set of minimum standards.  The full LEMA process is fairly involved, so this first test is needed by the state to weed out the insincere and/or inadequate proposals.

Assuming the local plan passes initial muster, two hearing processes take place next - the first by an independent hearing officer, and the second, more detailed hearing, by the state engineer.  By law, the hearings are focused solely on the proposed local plan - an important element that insures that local desires are not derailed.  And finally, the state engineer makes one of 4 possible decisions - approve the local plan as presented; reject the plan entirely; return the plan with unconstitutional or illegal elements identified; or return the plan with state suggested amendments that improve the proposal.  In this last option, the state suggested amendments can only be offered if they came up during the hearing process, are not more restrictive than initially proposed, and can be rejected by the GMD 4 board to halt the process.

This approach by no means insures that the locals will get exactly what they want, but it does guarantee they won't get what they don't want.  The fear of unwanted outcomes has, prior to the LEMA approach, prevented many local requests for enhanced management from being started.  It also pretty much requires that the locals, GMD and state engineer to work closely together in culminating any local approach put forward. Finally, the previous approach of using Intensive Groundwater Use Control Areas (IGUCAs), which is significantly more of a state-directed enhanced management approach,  has been retained in its entirety.  With the LEMA authority, the locals now have the first choice of tools to use, but not exclusive command of the enhanced management process.

The GMD 4 board just approved our first LEMA request (SD-6 High Priority Area) which was submitted to the state engineer on July 16.  We're all in uncharted waters, now.  More later.

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