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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Kansas Researchers Talk About Water and What It Means for the State

There is no mistaking that water is important to Kansas farmers. Where it comes from, how it is used and regulated are on the minds of many, especially in the western, more agricultural part of the state. How farmers respond to the quality and availability of water and how it affects their crop and irrigation decisions was the focus of a unique symposium sponsored jointly by the Biofuels and Climate Change: Farmers' Land Use Decisions research team and the Kansas Natural Resource Council, which took place at the University of Kansas on September 26. The goal of the symposium was to disseminate the project's research findings to key stakeholders and policy-makers in the state.

Gene West farm, Kiowa County, Kansas (Photo by Larry Schwarm)
The symposium titled Kansas Waters: Research and Communication - From Data to News, drew an audience of about 50 stakeholders, mainly from the Kansas Water Office and other policy-making agencies, along with University of Kansas and Kansas State researchers.  The morning began with research presentations on water use including what motivates or impedes underlying irrigation decisions as well as cultural aspects with regard to farmers' attitudes and perspectives on water usage. Other topics included the role of water rights on conservation and how other restrictions affect usage. The research results demonstrate that Minimum Desirable Streamflow restrictions effectively reduce agricultural water use within the Lower Republic River basin.  More broadly, research results reveal that water rights constrain, but not fully, agricultural water use when considering the entire state of Kansas.  In the early afternoon, presentations focused on water quality: the impact of agricultural activities on surface water quality and how farmers perceive water quality.
The latter part of the afternoon included a workshop on how to communicate science and policy to different audiences such as the general public, the legislature, institutions and the media. A variety of stakeholders from these audiences spoke about their perspectives on the best ways to communicate the findings from the morning session.

The afternoon discussion drew a clear conclusion.  Legal restrictions on irrigation exist yet farmers in the Central Plains are quickly depleting groundwater aquifers and draining surface water.  Thus, a richer understanding of policy effectiveness is important.

Update: See a related story from September 27, 2014 in the Lawrence Journal World at http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2014/sep/27/ogallala-water-continues-pore-farm-fields-despite-/ .

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