Friday, January 4, 2013

Kansas' First LEMA Order Signed

LEMA Bill Signing - Colby, KS, 2012

The 2012 Legislature passed a new law authorizing the implementation of local enhanced management areas (LEMAs).  The accompanying picture is of the LEMA bill signing in Colby follwing the Governor's ceremonial signing.  Chief engineer David Barfield is addressing the crowd, while Governor Brownback looks on (in the blue shirt over the speaker's right shoulder).

Basically, if a groundwater management district (GMD) works with local stakeholders, they can submit an enhanced management plan to the chief engineer for consideration.  If the proposal meets certain basic criteria, the chief engineer can call for public hearings on the exclusively local proposal, with the hearing process focused ONLY on the local proposal.  Following the hearings, the chief engineer has only three basic options:  1)  Approve the proposal as submitted; 2) reject the proposal in its entirety; or 3) return it with suggestions that have come up in the hearing process and must have local approval to be included.  In other words, outside ideas can't find their way into the state's final implementation order without local approval.  As I've said before, the locals may not get what they want, but they are assured of not getting what they don't want once the process gets under way.

The special management area we call SD-6 has gone through this entire process and on December 31, 2012 the chief engineer signed the state's first LEMA Order - designating this 99 square-mile area as a LEMA.  The order ended up being issued under option 1) above - it was exactly as locally proposed.

There were some anxious moments in this process.  We weren't sure the proposal would be accepted from the start based on its 5-year life span.  There are those who argued that a sunsetted LEMA may not be worth the effort.  The locals argued that the review process was flexible enough to continue the proposal, but that a 5-year trial spin was all that could be locally acceptable.  Besides, 5 years of reduced water use is better than no conservation should the plan be rejected out of the gate.

We also had some opposition to the flexibility of moving water use around within the LEMA area.  Some felt that the unrestricted movement of water use across the 20 or so miles of this area could be problematic.  We argued that only judicious amounts of water are likely to be transferred around via the flexibility we've provided, so there will not be huge supply problems created.  Moreover, we agreed to look at this issue every year in the required annual LEMA review.  If any problems crop up, we've left a mechanism to address them.

The boundaries were also contentious.  Many expressed the feeling that the entire County, or the entire GMD should have been included.  The fact that the entire County and the entire GMD are not experiencing the same degree of problematic declines seemed to have prevailed. 

We're excited to try this out and see how effective it will be for the local water users.  The total 5-year pumping cap imposed will reduce historical pumpage by about 18-20% per year for 5 years.  This should help slow the groundwater decline rate and thus extend the economic life of this portion of the Ogallala Aquifer.

About the only trepidation we have now is the specter of a lawsuit, as not everyone was equally as enthused about the design of this LEMA.  Since it's new, I guess it's possible that the law is in fact unconstitutional, or that we've applied the process improperly.  But I have bigger concerns regarding a law suit.  This new authority was consistently hailed as being the most promising local approach to groundwater problem solving in Kansas in a long time.  If we locals can't make it work, I'm afraid that the very idea of "local control" in Kansas may become questioned by State pundits more seriously than many of us would be comfortable with.  The loss of local control and serious input into groundwater issues I think will be lamented very much.  'nuff said.

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