There is a debate ongoing in Kansas over the most likely outcome the new, multi-year flex account (MYFA) option is going to have on water use patterns. Will it conserve water; be neutral; or increase water use?
The new MYFA authority allows a water right owner to convert their current annual water right to a 5-year total, and to use the 5-year total in any manner. The 5-year total is the greater of two calculations (both based on past reported water use) and does not necessarily equal the maximum annual amount times 5, although it can.
The two calculations are: 1) Average reported 2000-2009 water use (X) 5; or 2) 50% net irrigation requirement (NIR) for the county (X) maximum 2000-2009 acres reported irrigated (X) 1.1 (X) 5. Both calculations are limited to legally used water and capped at 5 times the authorized annual quantity. Generally water rights with a low AF to acre ratio having used close to their maximum annual quantities each year and those that have been stretching their irrigation water right over higher than normal acres calculate out the best and end up with a 5-year total allocation that approaches or equals 5 times the authorized annual amount. For these rights, the MYFA is an attractive option. For other rights the 5-year total calculates out to less than their annually authorized amount times 5. It should be noted here that the system was designed to provide users more flexibility in their annual use decisions, based on weather, etc., while being historically “use-neutral” – not reducing or increasing past water use patterns.
In any event, for those who take the MYFA option, the question is will they end up using less, the same, or more water than if they had continued on with their annually limited water right?
One camp says having a 5-year total water right will cause users to be frugal in the early years to make sure they don’t come up short in the last years – in other words, that some water conservation is likely to occur. Another camp says the system will more likely insure that all the 5-year totals will get used in every 5-year period, thus conserving no water at all, and since some of the calculations are actually a bit higher than past historical use (those using the second calculation), this will actually increase water use a bit. The third camp says they don’t know, but let’s try it and find out.
I guess one could also ask: Will the added water use flexibility increase the economic returns from the water that is used? If so, does it really matter if a bit more water is used or conservation occurs? These MYFAs also raise other questions as well, like, how might they affect federal drought crop insurance program where these producers now have the legal right to use as much water as is needed to stave off drought – at least in the early years of the 5-year allocation? Will $9.00 corn (or higher) influence corn acreage planting during any MYFA period?