Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced last Friday a new pilot program administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Kansas and Colorado to remove sediments from ponds to help provide more water for livestock or for irrigation. This effort will be part of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and is largely in response to the on-going drought. According to the press release it's to "..provide an additional conservation option for producers who face drought-related issues on their agricultural operations."
The press release goes on to cover another water conservation program that was implemented from within the recently expired Farm Bill - that being The Ogallala Aquifer Initiative. NRCS claims that through the Farm Program at least 860,000 acre feet of water was not withdrawn from the Ogallala due to all its conservation programs, representing 1.1% of the entire irrigation use over the same time frame. Their calculations say that the 1.1% extension translates into $82 million of ag sales at today's value, and, saved the equivalent of 18 million gallons of diesel in energy savings. They state that just over 25% of these numbers were attributed directly to the Ogallala Aquifer Initiative.
GMD 4 is proud to report that we were a significant recipient of Ogallala Aquifer Initiative funds in which we set aside and/or retired irrigation water use in our six designated High Priority Areas. Of course, one of these six areas may soon become a formal Local Enhanced Management Area (LEMA) under new Kansas law which will continue the water savings on into the future.
I don't know about saving 860,000 acre feet of water through these programs, but they have been positive for sure. Suffice it to say that the federal accounting for water savings can be quite different than how we'd account for a water savings. We've managed to retire (save) just over 2,000 acre feet of real water between the federal AWEP (through NRCS) and the Kansas Water Transition Assistance Program. This is measured, historical use of water independent of water right authorizations or any other numbers that can look quite impressive. And they were in relatively small, hydrologic areas where the reductions in use are more likely to have a noticeable effect.
Anyway, nice to see the Department of Agriculture helping out in the drought areas through programs and assistance.