Water is one of the building blocks of life. Without it, lands become impossible to farm, towns become impossible to live in, and states lose population and income.
And in Kansas, that access to water is at a crossroads, of sorts, with threats to the supply from a number of sources depending on one's location in the state. Gov. Brownback called for a 50-year water plan for the state, and the information gathering tour for that effort made its way to Pittsburg on Thursday.
Among the issues facing the state are threats to the Ogallala Aquifer in the western part of the state and sedimentation to a number of reservoirs that dot the eastern part of the state. Pittsburg, specifically, is among those with less concerns than others, given that it not only sits on the undepleted Ozark Aquifer, but that it also sits over the deepest portion of that aquifer.
Susan Metzger, the Chief of Planning and Policy for the Kansas Water Office, guided the discussion on Thursday about not only the current situation, but potential policy changes and other solutions that could help the state craft a 50-year water plan.
Metzger started out with some rather stunning projections. First, if the state takes no action over the next 50 years, the Ogallala Aquifer will be 70 percent depleted. Second, the federal reservoirs will be 40 percent filled with sediment. An offshoot of that last projection is that five of seven major river basins that support municipal and industrial use won't meet demands in a severe drought.
Just as a point of reference, one of those potentially affected river basins is the Neosho River basin, on which the John Redmond Reservoir is located. That reservoir is already more than 50 percent sedimented, Metzger said.
Metzger told those in attendance, who were mainly officials from local municipalities and water istricts that "everything is on the table," when it comes to solutions.
One of the biggest ideas was for the recycling and reuse of water. Other ideas included rebuilding smaller reservoirs than the federal ones in existence.
Pittsburg city manager Daron Hall said that he would like to see state and federal assistance to help build the infrastructure that would allow Pittsburg to be a regional water supplier.
Others spoke about not only trying to save water, but to keep the water that they do have in the system.
"ONe district, not ourselves, had a big loss last month. A penny saved is a penny earned, and a gallon saved, too," said one commenter. "We do have big losses, because our lines are from the '60s. They're glued together and they're popping. They're popping at all the joints. I heard one district, serving 500-600 people, they were at a 52 percent loss and sold 48 percent."
Pittsburg Public Utilities Director John Bailey also spoke, and said that although Pittsburg is in a good position, and other neighboring states like Colorado and Oklahoma, like Kansas, are working on a water vision plan, Missouri is not. Further, Missouri has different or nonexistent policies that could have effects on Kansas.
Although water is being threatened statewide, Metzger noted that most don't realize how critical the situation has already become.
"It's a fairly regular resource. You turn on a tap or you turn on a sprinkler, and as long as you pay whatever your water bill says, you're good," she said.