Water conservation field day highlights advancements in water savings

Towns like Garden City, Kansas, are realizing their water vulnerability in the High Plains region and are starting to do something about it.

The city of Garden City and the Upper Arkansas Regional Advisory Committee hosted a Water Conservation Field Day, April 13, in Garden City. Presenters detailed projects the city is working on and attendees toured conservation projects in and around the city.

“We don’t have as much background in conservation,” Fred Jones, water resource manager for the city of Garden City. But they’re working on it. Jones praised the efforts of Hays, Kansas, to save water in their community during the past 25 years and hopes to learn from their example.

Tracy Streeter, director of the Kansas Water Office agreed and said there’s some pretty good stuff going on in Garden City, too, especially coming off the city hosting the Ogallala Aquifer Summit in early April.

“There was a good mixture of water users in the Ogallala that were here telling really cool stories about things their doing to make a difference in the aquifer and I think it was pretty well received,” he said.

Streeter touted Kansas’ water management skills and how things work in the state.

“A lot of times I think we’re lagging way behind and not doing enough but when we compare ourselves with the other Ogallala states, we’re probably on the cutting edge of a couple fronts,” Streeter said.

Kansas has access to information about its water resources and water use and that’s important, Streeter said.

“We’re the only ones in the Ogallala that can talk about those kinds of things because we have the information,” he said. “There’s some great water conservation/reuse things on the cutting edge right now here in Garden City.”

Jones, a member of the regional advisory committee for the Arkansas River, emphasized the importance of communication. The committee has prioritized goals to achieve part of the governor’s vision for the future of water in Kansas.

“The first one is extending the usable lifetime of the Ogallala aquifer for at least 25 years,” he said.

In the local planning region, there are multiple local enhancement management areas or LEMAs, water conservation areas and other incentive based programs—all of which help the efforts to conserve water.

“We do have several water conservation areas. In fact, a new water conservation area was reviewed by the GWMD April 12,” Jones said. “We’ve had a number of those that have come about since the inception of the program. Again, all of these are trying to find some efficiencies in irrigated agriculture, slowing the decline in the aquifer.”

Water in the Arkansas River

The regional committee seeks to continue to reestablish and maintain flows along the Arkansas River in southwest Kansas. Jones thought it had been 10 years or longer since there was actual river flow in Garden City. Typically the flow stops around the Lakin/Deerfield areas.

“During the drought there wasn’t even flow in as far as Lakin, so there’s a lot of use for the Arkansas River in eastern Colorado,” Jones said. “There’s a tremendous amount of surface water diverted for irrigation.”

One of the goals is to try to get river flow as far east as Dodge City, Kansas. He hopes that by maximizing available water and promoting conservation of municipal use through incentives, education and outreach, that can be accomplished.

Jones said water consumption per capita per day by the city of Garden City is on a downward trend.

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Streeter stressed the importance of monitoring water use and making educated management decisions. The Kansas Geological Service measures 1,400 observation wells every year, and Kansas has “a really good handle on what the aquifer is doing.”

“We can tell you last year was a good year for the Ogallala Aquifer. It actually had less declines than in 2017,” Streeter said. “So that’s a rarity. Usually it’s the other way around. So we’ve got some good news.”

Kylene Scott can be reached at [email protected] or 620-227-1804.