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Let’s talk about agricultural irrigation.......

by Freddie Lamm

Each time we have talked, I have alluded to the fact that agricultural irrigation is under a lot of external pressure and scrutiny. Regardless of which region of the country you live in, the pressures facing irrigated agriculture are generally similar. These pressures include limited water resources, competition between urban, industrial, wildlife, recreation, and irrigation users, water quality degradation, and the economics. Different approaches can be taken to resolve these conflicts. Ideally, it would be great if all parties in a conflict could have the result their own way. In reality, most conflicts are resolved by each side compromising and working together for a mutual agreement. These compromises need not be catastrophic to any of the parties. Rather, they can be as simple as recognizing each party’s needs and finding a way to address everyone’s needs. Since the percentage of the population involved in irrigated agriculture is small, it will probably become more and more important that irrigators and the irrigation industry seek out alliances and partnerships to solve water problems. Here’s an example of an alliance of several parties to solve a water problem in Kansas.

The Rattlesnake Creek Sub-basin in south-central Kansas covers approximately 1300 square miles. Approximately 23% of the land is irrigated. Near the lower end of the sub-basin lies the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge which is an important stopover in the Central Flyway for migratory waterfowl and shorebirds. Fluctuations in the amount of surface water flowing into the Refuge has resulted in increased difficulties in achieving the wildlife objectives for which the refuge was created. Irrigation demands on the aquifer as well as improved dryland water conservation techniques reduce surface water flows. Drought conditions exacerbate the problem as higher irrigation demands often coincide with the higher need for water by the Refuge.

In 1994, four entities with diverse backgrounds entered into a partnership to work cooperatively to develop and implement solutions to the water resource problems of the sub-basin. The Rattlesnake Creek /Quivira Partnership includes the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Kansas Division of Water Resources (DWR), the Big Bend Groundwater Management District No. 5 (GMD #5), and the Water Protection Association of Central Kansas (Water Pack). Each of the partners has separate objectives for belonging to the partnership. The USFWS wants to assure adequate quality and quantity of water for management of the Refuge. The DWR and GMD#5 work from a state and local perspective, respectively, to manage the sub-basin’s water resources within the context of Kansas water laws and regulations. Water Pack, an organization of water users and agribusinesses of south central Kansas, has as it’s objective in the partnership, to manage and encourage water conservation so that the irrigation and other water needs of the sub-basin are met.

Although the objectives of the partners are quite different, they do agree on some joint principles to guide the partnership:

  1. The partners are committed to a cooperative approach and to acknowledge the interests of all residents within the basin.
  2. Water conservation shall be a guiding principle for all partners.
  3. The partners are committed to joint planning efforts to minimize duplication of work and to maximize use of available resources.
  4. The partners shall recognize the different obligations, duties, responsibilities and roles that each partner has outside the partnership.

An examination of these principles shows several important facets to successful partnerships on solving water resource conflicts. Principle 1 shows the interests of all potential stakeholders are being considered. Principles 2 and 3 implies that a rational guiding principle has been agreed upon and that accurate and technically sound information will be collected and shared jointly to arrive at solutions. Principles 1 and 4 in essence, say that sometimes they "will agree to disagree". Understanding and respecting the other partner’s goals is critical to any successful partnership, whether the goal is a common goal or not.

The Rattlesnake Creek /Quivira Partnership has been successful in working towards an overall solution to their water resources problem. To date they have agreed on an outline of the problems and a method and timeline to address the problems. The partnership has selected a computer model to analyze the problems and suggest solutions. An educational program on water use and conservation has been developed and implemented in the basin. Information has been shared among the diverse partners. Partially as a result of success of the Partnership, a group of 41 agencies and entities was identified as having an interest in developing and implementing a comprehensive management plan for the sub-basin. Working together, it is likely a more palatable solution can be obtained to the water resource problem, rather than all sides seeking a solution through litigation.

I’m sure these cooperative partnerships are not unique to Kansas. I’m just more familiar with this one. Perhaps, you have one that you would like to share. The point I think we should share is that common solutions can be found and that we should actively seek working relationships with groups that do not always understand our goals. Likewise, we need to recognize that we do not always understand their goals either.

This series of articles is part of the mission of the Agricultural Irrigation Common Interest Group to get our message out to the public. That means we are always interested in irrigation success stories. Let me know if you have an irrigation success story to share. Please feel free to contact me by mail, Email, fax, or phone. In the mean time, let’s talk about agricultural irrigation....

Freddie Lamm is an Associate Professor for Kansas State University conducting agricultural irrigation engineering research at the KSU Northwest Research-Extension Center, Colby, Kansas. He is the Immediate Past Chair of The IA Agricultural Irrigation Common Interest Group. Comments can be sent to postal address 105 Experiment Farm Road, Colby, Kansas 67701; Email: flamm@ksu.edu; Fax: 785-462-2315; or Phone: 785-462-6281.

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