Joco Opinion

Bob Sigman: The idea of a Kansas aqueduct isn’t all that far-fetched

An aqueduct running across Kansas?

The idea may seem far-fetched at the moment, but the possibility is getting attention.

Late in January, the Kansas Water Authority received an updated version of a 1982 study that explored pumping excess water from a Missouri River reservoir near White Cloud, Kan., southwesterly to a storage facility in the area of Utica, Kan..

The authority accepted the study and said it would forward the findings to appropriate legislators. The authority recommended that work begin with other states in the river’s watershed on management and allocation of water.

“It was noted by Authority members the report doesn’t address several key questions, such as the financial, legal, cultural and environmental impacts of the plan,” an authority statement said.

Supporters of an aqueduct point out that the facility is needed for a new source of water as the level of the Ogallala Aquifer falls. The aquifer is an integral part of Kansas agriculture, one of the state’s most important industries.

“Kansas needs to secure the water today to sustainably meet the demands that exist today and that will be there 20-30 years from now, when a water transportation project could be completed,” explained Mark Rude.

Rude is the executive director of Southwest Kansas Groundwater Management District No.3, based in Garden City. He said his organization was one of the contributors for the $300,000 updated study, along with the U.S. Corps of Engineers and the state of Kansas.

“Loss of water supply,” he said, “would create an inevitable dramatic economic loss to western Kansas, the Kansas economic future, and national food security as a whole.”

An analysis by researchers at Kansas State University in 2013 showed that the part of the aquifer that flows beneath Kansas would be depleted at the current rate of usage by about 2060.

As envisioned by aqueduct proponents, water would be transferred in a 360-mile long, concrete-lined open channel with as many as 15 pumping stations. Construction would cost an estimated $18 billion and it would take another $1 billion a year for operations and other expenses.

The stage for opposition seemed to be set by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, whose state is among several in the watershed. He took the opportunity in his recent State of the State address to denounce the proposal as “hare-brained.”

The feasibility of the project is in question. Opponents also suggest that more drought-resistant plants should be developed in western Kansas.

There are many bureaucratic hurdles to clear, including approval by federal and state agencies and dealing with American Indian tribal rights in Doniphan County, in northeast Kansas, where the water would be withdrawn.

Aqueducts date to ancient times. Currently there are numerous aqueducts around the world, including some in the United States. They are used in this country mainly for farm irrigation, industry and drinking water for cities. Among them are one that serves southern California and another that pipes water to Phoenix and Tucson in Arizona.

Officials at Johnson County Water District No. 1, which draws part of its supply from the Missouri, said the district does not take a position on the aqueduct and that the district would not be directly affected.

As Kansans though, we should take a close look at this proposal.

Freelance columnist Bob Sigman, a former member of The Star’s Editorial Board, writes monthly.